Should we care about the Big 3?

I grew up in car country, many of the men in my small town commuted to assembly and parts plants near the city, and any self-respecting 12 year old boy could hold forth on the relative merits of various V-8 engines (my favorite was the Chevy 283 cu in).

At that time the Big 3 owned the market, with minor competition from AMC, Jeep and Volkswagen. Foreign cars were novelties or the toys of the wealthy.

In the 70s the Big 3 received some messages. First was the oil shock. Then small foreign-made cars started to appear, I remember a lot of Datsuns (Nissan). Chrysler got in trouble, but the feds, Big Lee and the minivan saved them for a couple more decades.

There were other warning signs, in the mid-80s Ford was saved by the Taurus, and in the 90s the Explorer and F-150.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) were at the peak of their power by the mid-80s, but already jobs were starting to slip away. Now the jobs are going wholesale.

After massive losses of market share and jobs, the Big 3 and the UAW are at the edge of the cliff.

Poor design, poor quality and poor service cannot be blamed on anyone but the parties who did not care about consumers. There may or may not be time for a comeback by the Big 3.

Question: should we care? Should we let capitalism run its course?

I have an indirect vested interest, the demise of the Big 3 has and will have disproportionate impacts on Ohio and Michigan, where I live and do most of my work.

Question: should we care about Ohio and Michigan, or let nature run its course (both are also suffering as we offshore light and medium manufacturing)?

On a political note, the Bush administration blew off the domestic auto industry before the 2006 election, and then the GOP got creamed in Ohio and lost in Michigan. Cause and effect? I don’t know, but suddenly Bush is very interested in the domestic auto industry.

So what is our attitude on this? The Bush economy is not providing any replacement jobs, other than low value service jobs. Will this continue for a generation as I suspect?

The downslide of industrial unions is taking real incomes and real pension plans with it, so are the ripple effects something to worry about? Will this fuel a new populism?

Talk among yourselves.