In the end, the money that towns across America gave General Motors did not matter… G.M. walked away and, thanks to a federal bailout, is once again profitable. The towns have not been so fortunate, having spent scarce funds in exchange for thousands of jobs that no longer exist.
Timing is everything. The exhaustively researched and rather bleak article regarding the predatory impact of major corporations on small, relatively powerless local governments that appeared in the New York Times on Saturday certainly doesn’t fit in with the what’s-good-for-General-Motors-is-good-for-the-country-and-everything’s-great mantra chanted by much of the press prior to the Presidential election. Let’s not be cynical; perhaps this is a brave example of speaking truth to power, the American paper of record demanding more accountability and more fairness from a corporation which is still largely owned by the United States Government.
Regardless, this piece (brought to our attention by Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer) is worth reading with attention. From its taxpayer-funded greenfield factories in Tennessee to Ypsilanti’s surely doomed lawsuit against it, the specter of the General twists and twirls throughout the entire narrative. It’s written from a point of view that is classic NYT: business should be under the thumb of all governmental entities, from city council to Star Chamber, and those businesses should be held completely liable for any negative effect on their hosting communities, even if said negative effect is a result of unforeseeable circumstances. There’s a unique sort of mindset expressed in counting tax deferments as equal to lost income — that’s a lot like buying a set of work boots to get a job and then complaining that your boss just took the cost of those boots out of your pocket. It’s also somewhat disturbing to see the Times suggest, even obliquely, that collusion between governments to reduce tax incentives might be desirable.
Those minor quibbles aside, however, the article makes a solid point. A lot of communities spent a lot of money on General Motors, only to see their investments discarded and destroyed by a national government which absolved the debts, gave the UAW a seat made of investors’ bones on the board and told the city councils of the Midwest and elsewhere to go pound sand. Big government and big business hand in hand, crushing the opposition. There used to be a word for that, you know.