Paul Greenberg

GM and Chrysler are already shutting down assembly lines and dropping some of their poorest-selling models. Say goodbye to Dodge Aspen, Durango, PT Cruiser, Saturn, Hummer, some Pontiac models ... and who knows how many others by the time all this is over.

A lot of good people, people who've done their jobs and followed the rules, many of whom have been pillars of their church and community, are going to get hurt. Like the kind of small-town car dealers who are the bulwark of every good cause in their community. While the highbinders may float away on their golden parachutes, everybody else could feel the pinch.

But Americans have gone through much worse and not only survived but triumphed. Better a definite crisis now that leads to a new start than unending entropy.

Creative destruction, the economist Joseph Schumpeter called the essence of capitalism. While it's the destruction that may be most evident at the moment, the creativity is already showing. Saturn dealers, for example, are tying to find a way to preserve Saturn as an independent, freestanding, international company.

Why let these huge moribund corporations divest themselves of this or that branch piecemeal as they founder? Are they likely to do any better at shutting down their unprofitable branches than they did adding them?

Why not do the job for them? It needs to be done quickly, clearly, legally -- in bankruptcy court.

Yes, it would be painful. Drastic surgery usually is. But afterward these overextended outfits could start to recuperate.

Congress' approach to date can be summed up simply enough: Send good billions after bad, getting only paper promises and vacuous assurances in return. That's not good enough. These corporate leviathans are a money hole. The only thing sure about the next bailout is that still another will be demanded.

But the administration may only temporize, and wind up adopting the Japanese model willy-nilly. This country, too, can lose the next decade. East and West can meet -- in failure.

Let's give the American auto industry a new beginning. And end this form of corporate welfare as, unfortunately, we're coming to know it.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.