Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Moore and Me

Today (4/1/2009) Michael Moore (the same one of "Roger and Me" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" fame) posted a letter on his website addressing the Obama's administration involvement with the US auto industry. The letter starts by suggesting that it is very inappropriate for the President of the United States to interfere directly in the business of a private corporation. It's April 1st, after all, and the punchline comes soon enough:

" 'What are we going to do about this Obama?' Not much, fellows. He has the massive will of the American people behind him -- and he has been granted permission by us to do what he sees fit."

President Obama may have the massive will of the American people behind him, except, apparently, the will of the workers at the GM Powertrain plant in Ypsilanti, MI. A relative, who drives an eighteen-wheeler, was in the plant yesterday to pick up a load. He said that the workers were so angry, frustrated, even distracted by the decision of the President (of the US, not of GM) that they loaded his truck with the wrong parts at first.

Furthermore, and Mr. Moore should know this since he has a picture of the US Constitution on his website, right above the title of his letter, the President of the United States has not been "granted permission by us to do what he sees fit." He was only elected by us to "... faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and ... to the best of [his] Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" (the Oath of office). Article II of the US Constitution spells out what the president can do, such as appointing ambassadors, cabinet members, even Supreme Court Justices, but nowhere does it say appointing CEOs or firing them.

Michael Moore's point later in the letter is that after all these years when GM presidents (starting with Roger Smith) laid off thousands of hard working auto workers, someone finally gave a pink slip to the president of General Motors:

"Not one of them ever thought that one day they would witness the CEO receive the same treatment. Of course Chairman Wagoner will not have to sign up for food stamps or be evicted from his home or tell his kids they'll be going to the community college, not the university. Instead, he will get a $23 million golden parachute. But the slip in his hands is still pink, just like the hundreds of thousands that others received -- except his was issued by us, via the Obama-man. Here's the door, buster. See ya. Don't wanna be ya."

Don't wanna be ya? Mr. Moore seems to miss his own point: the laid off GM workers struggled precisely because they lost their source of income. Most laid off workers would rather be Rick Wagoner with his $23 million golden parachute.

This doesn't seem to be the first time Michael Moore misses his own point. In Roger and Me (watch the movie - it's great!) he spends half the time outlining the struggles GM is facing as it attempts to adapt to global competition (which, if it had done successfully, would not have caused GM to be facing bankruptcy today) and the other half on the failures of the Flint city government to bring about economic development. It seems lost on him that while he is asking government to solve economic problems he is exposing precisely government's inability to solve economic problems.

But the points above are merely philosophical. As a practical matter, take a look at these Time magazine articles on two cars made by government-run factories: Trabant and Yugo. Though they weren't particularly environmentally friendly, they got excellent gas mileage, and with today's advanced catlytic converter technology and the right government mandates, we could make them as clean as Prius.