Daily Podcast I: A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Yes, it’s a palindrome. No, it’s not my favorite. (Do geese see God?) But as a history buff—as in that’ll buff right out—I’ve always considered this palindrome something of a prose poem. The Panama Canal was certainly not the vision of one man. In 1534, Charles V of Spain contemplated a man-made waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1880, after completing the Suez Canal, French Vicomte Ferdinand de Lessepss rose to the challenge. Nine years later, disease (amongst other things) put paid to the entire engineering endeavor. American President Theodore Roosevelt picked-up the cudgel. Crucially, the plan in question eventually changed from a sea level passage to a system of dams and locks. The Canal opened on August 15, 1914. As for Panama, it received control of the Canal in 1977. So what does this tell us about the U.S. car industry? The simplest ideas may be the greatest, but all great ideas take time; and time is money. What’s so great about rebuilding GM, and do we really have the time to do it?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • John R John R on Apr 01, 2009

    Yay! Panama! I was born there. Funny thing about the Canal, not only were fellas from the West Indies hired to dig, but there were also a number of Chinese. You haven't done everything until you chat it up with Asian-Panamanians with West Indian accents. I had no idea until I saw the band at our family reunion. Those guys could play. More to the point, I think its important to mention the human cost of construction, if we're going to use this analogy. Malaria claim more than their fair share, but lets not forget the...um..hiccups along the way. Like diggers (dealers) getting a full face of TNT. GM, CH11...there will be blood. But I ain't complainin'. This should have happened in 1977, too.

  • Blue387 Blue387 on Apr 01, 2009

    What, no Marine Corps? Have you considered a weekly podcast instead of a daily podcast? Distilled wisdom every Tuesday instead of every day?

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Apr 01, 2009

    Good podcast. It provides a cogent argument, and is definitely worth a listen. But I can't agree with aspects of it. It presumes that the federal mission is to operate GM into perpetuity, along the lines of British Leyland. I believe that this presumption will prove to be wrong. The feds will attempt to ultimately sell or transfer power to other parties, and will pull the plug at a later date when the economic consequences are more manageable if they cannot. They don't wish to be long-term owners here, anymore than the FDIC wants to own failed banks for very long after they've seized them. GM would be attractive to a foreign operator that wants an easy entry into the US market. The brands may be broken today, but an aggressive effort to fix them, as difficult as it would be, would be easier and cheaper than starting from scratch. The US remains an attractive market in which to do business, as well as the opportunity to pick up some of GM's overseas business, so there should be more suitors than there were for the decided Anglo-oriented British car companies. Part of the key here is to identify what would be acquired here. A new GM might carry the name but otherwise bear little resemblance to the old company (or one would hope.) With much of the upper and middle management gone and an aggressive attack on the defeatist mentality, this could be achieved, just as Ghosn was able to with Nissan.

  • BlueBrat BlueBrat on Apr 01, 2009
    PCH101: I agree, Bailouts that Worked shows us how our feds will manage this. I would hope, however, it's not as drawn out as the Penn Central scenario.