Where Does It End?
As I write this column, I am in Geneva, Switzerland, working at MFG.com’s European headquarters. I’ve just heard that the U.S. Congress has approved a $700-billion financial bailout plan to rescue our bleeding financial, mortgage and credit institutions. I have some strong feelings that I’d like to share about the U.S. financial crisis and where it’s going. I am a capitalist. I am a machinist. I am a business owner. I am an American. And I’m mad.
Never in my lifetime have we faced—and I never thought we’d ever see—such grave economic times. How did we get in this mess, and how do we rationalize the solution?
These are companies so poorly run that they collapsed while holding and managing trillions of dollars in assets. They not only made loans they shouldn’t have—they were stupid. And we’re bailing them out?
This wasn’t a natural disaster or the results of war, where the compensated are helpless victims—this is the direct result of pure greed and a government purposely asleep at the wheel after deregulating every industry it could over the past 30 years.
During the height of my machining career, I worked at Northwest Airlines while the airline industry was deregulated. While I am a capitalist, I also believe in playing by rules. I know that some things in a free market must be regulated. If a company is flying my family, our service members or anyone in a tube moving 550 mph at 30,000 feet, I don’t want the invisible hand on the throttle.
We let careless deregulation of the financial institutions happen, and now that plane’s going down. We didn’t just let the fox watch the henhouse—we put in Colonel Sanders with a hatchet and 11 secret herbs and spices. What did we expect to happen?
As a machinist and business owner that’s served manufacturing my whole life, I have a question. Where’s our bailout?
Many small and medium sized U.S. manufacturing businesses have been decimated over the past 15 years due to our trade policies. Were some of these businesses mismanaged? Did some misjudge or freeze in the face of change? Maybe. But Wall Street is getting its bailout for causing a catastrophic mess themselves. So where is manufacturing’s bailout?
When I worked in the airline industry, I saw what deregulation did to Eastern Airlines. Remember them? They couldn’t keep pace in the deregulated landscape and they folded. Where was their bailout?
Low-interest loans are being offered to the Big 3 automakers to bail them out. Didn’t they ignore markets, lag behind tastes and trends, and get their bacon handed to them by foreign automakers with superior products and service? Why are we bailing them out, and not all of manufacturing?
Boeing is in the middle of a strike by the machinist’s union. Following the logic of this bailout, shouldn’t we help them out a little?
U.S. manufacturing built and continues to build this country—literally. I’d say it deserves a bailout as much as anyone.
So, where does all this end? Socialism? It looks that way to me, when the government owns large chunks of residential mortgages. Will the National Guard be called in to execute foreclosures from here on out?
Since I’m in Europe, I had the chance to have breakfast with the French manager of my company’s Paris office. Our conversation eventually turned to the topic of our financial meltdown. At one point, he described to me how a large bank in France recently had found itself in awful shape due to mismanagement. There was a scandal and finger pointing, and the French government gave the bank a huge bailout, as they’ve done before.
He then said to me, “I never thought I would see this happen in the U.S. You are just like France now.”
As I said, I’m mad. And embarrassed.
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