Who killed the U.S. auto industry?
To hear the media tell it, arrogant corporate chiefs failed to foresee the demand for small, fuel-efficient cars and made gas-guzzling road-hog SUVs no one wanted, while the clever, far-sighted Japanese, Germans and Koreans prepared and built for the future.
I dissent. What killed Detroit was Washington, the government of the United States, politicians, journalists and muckrakers who have long harbored a deep animus against the manufacturing class that ran the smokestack industries that won World War II.
As far back as the 1950s, an intellectual elite that produces mostly methane had its knives out for the auto industry of which Ike's treasury secretary, ex-GM chief Charles Wilson, had boasted, "What's good for America is good for General Motors, and vice versa."
"Engine Charlie" was relentlessly mocked, even in Al Capp's L'il Abner cartoon strip, where a bloviating "General Bullmoose" had as his motto, "What's good for Bullmoose is good for America!"
How did Big Government do in the U.S. auto industry?
Washington imposed a minimum wage higher than the average wage in war-devastated Germany and Japan. The Feds ordered that U.S. plants be made the healthiest and safest worksites in the world, creating OSHA to see to it. It enacted civil rights laws to ensure the labor force reflected our diversity. Environmental laws came next, to ensure U.S. factories became the most pollution-free on earth.
It then clamped fuel efficiency standards on the entire U.S. car fleet.
Next, Washington imposed a corporate tax rate of 35 percent, raking off another 15 percent of autoworkers' wages in Social Security payroll taxes
State governments imposed income and sales taxes, and local governments property taxes to subsidize services and schools.
The United Auto Workers struck repeatedly to win the highest wages and most generous benefits on earth -- vacations, holidays, work breaks, health care, pensions -- for workers and their families, and retirees.
Now there is nothing wrong with making U.S. plants the cleanest and safest on earth or having U.S. autoworkers the highest-paid wage earners.
That is the dream, what we all wanted for America.
And under the 14th Amendment, GM, Ford and Chrysler had to obey the same U.S. laws and pay at the same tax rates. Outside the United States, however, there was and is no equality of standards or taxes.
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