So that post I wrote last week on the auto industry meltdown has been bouncing around some political blogs and generally the discussion has been very civil and interesting. But I have received a few nasty e-mails and there are a couple things I still want to say.


I have been surprised by the anger and disgust expressed by so many at the workers (and their unions) for their role in the current state of the American auto industry. I cannot deny I have a certain sentimental appreciation for organized labor and what it has done for the working people of this country over the years, but nor can I deny that the role they've played in the weird, insular business culture of the domestic auto industry has contributed to some of its current problems (the JOBS bank, etc.). What has surprised me is how all kinds of people---conservatives and liberals---have such a visceral, angry response to the idea of the lazy union worker. In the comments I said it reminded me of the way people were so up in arms about Reagan's "welfare queen" mythology in the 1980s (you know: the black welfare mom driving all those kids around in a Cadillac and buying caviar with her food stamps). Now we have the lazy, do-nothing UAW member sitting in a room doing cross word puzzles instead of working on the line, collecting $70 an hour salaries with better health and retirement benefits than the CEOs of the company. I have no doubt that in the 1980s there were a few women on the welfare rolls driving around in Cadillacs. And I have no doubt that it wouldn't be a huge challenge to find a lazy UAW member getting paid more than he's worth. But does anyone really believe that all union members are that way---that this industry is currently crippled because lazy people without college degrees had the audacity to believe they deserved to join the middle class?

It's no secret that Americans don't like to confront real issues of class. But I'm going to do it anyway. I think this ugly response to a mythology perpetuated about blue-collar workers is particularly shameful because so many American white-collar workers in both the public and private sectors are incredibly lazy themselves. God forbid a factory worker should step away from her job twisting the tops on the toothpaste tubes for a minute, but just because someone has a Bachelor's degree that apparently entitles them to dick around on the internet all day with impunity. I once wrote (somewhat in jest), "Thank goodness almost every office worker in America has virtually unfettered access to the internet. Imagine what would happen to our economy if employers started taking away internet privileges and people were forced to actually work. The sound of crickets would reign at fark, digg, and reddit. Entire fantasy football teams would stand around on their virtual sidelines with nothing to do. Projects would get done way earlier than they needed to be. Soon there wouldn't be enough work to go around. Bureaucracies would actually become efficient. Massive layoffs would follow. The entire American economy is balanced precariously on the fact that the average American office worker spends only about 20 percent of his or her time actually working." This is corporate America's dirty little secret. Anyone who's ever worked in an office environment knows that it is at least somewhat true. Add to all that internet time the Sisyphusian piles of meaningless paperwork, unproductive conversations with coworkers, endless meetings, pointless conferences and worthless training seminars, and I think there's enough fodder for a stereotype of the lazy, do-nothing middle-class white-collar office worker who may not have a union to protect him, but who hardly deserves his salary. Where is the animus towards this mythical being?

The thing is, he's not a myth. He is real, and right now he is spitting on the men and women who still make things in America because they dared to believe they could be just like him.


To all the liberals who are so eager to see the Big Three "lie down in the graves they've made for themselves" by catering to the tastes of the majority of Americans who desired those big, gas-guzzling SUVs instead of developing small, fuel-efficient vehicles, I ask this: when is the last time you visited a car dealership for one of the Big Three? A lot of those SUVs now come in hybrid versions that significantly reduce their gas guzzling. One of the best-reviewed and (in my opinion) attractive cars produced by any auto company is the Chevy Malibu, which gets 30 mpg on the highway and also comes in a hybrid version. And I know I perseverated on this in the comments on the last post, but no one acknowledged it. How many Big Three-hating liberals are even aware of the Chevy Volt, an attractive, full-sized electric car that has been in development for many years and is set to be released in 2010? They scream about Detroit's lack of innovation and failure to develop hybrids, but GM has been working on the Chevy Volt for a long time (at GREAT expense) and this vehicle is poised to revolutionize the industry. It will get 100+ mpg, and travel all but the most extreme commute distances without a drop of fuel. In other words, it will kick your Prius's ass. This isn't just a concept car, it is a car that is set to be built in Detroit and sold to American consumers in about a year if this company is still in business.

So why do crunchy Detroit-hating liberals refuse to acknowledge GM's innovation? Why is it so much easier just to follow these common memes of hatred and loathing rather consider that these companies might be worth saving not just for the jobs and the economy of the Rust Belt, but for the innovation that our American engineers and designers might bring to the table?

[I'm closing comments here because I'd like to keep the discussion going in the comments to the last post. If you have something to add, I'd love to hear from you there]

[I took the photo at the top of this post yesterday on top of a 4-foot pile of books in what was formerly a library at a recently-closed school in Detroit. The book was published in 1963, when your options for such a career in Detroit were considerably better]