Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Go, Greased Lightning, You're Burnin' Up The Quarter Mile

Oh, this is just spiff:
General Motors Corp. plans to eliminate 25,000 jobs in the United States by 2008 and to close plants as part of a strategy to revive its struggling North American operations.

Speaking to shareholders at GM's 96th annual shareholder meeting in Delaware Tuesday morning, Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said the capacity and job cuts will generate annual savings of roughly $2.5 billion.

Wagoner revealed the cutbacks as he laid out a four-step strategy to revive GM's North American business, the biggest and most troubling part of the world's largest automaker.

Wagoner focused on priorities for clarifying the role of each of GM's eight brands, intensifying efforts to reduce cost and improve quality and continuing to search for ways to reduce skyrocketing health care costs.

He noted that the company's current $1,500 per worker health-care expense puts GM at a "significant disadvantage versus foreign-based competitors," and said GM has conducted "intense discussions" with the unions about how to reduce health-care costs.


In the cost-reduction area, Wagoner said it was vital for the company to improve efficiency at its manufacturing plants. He said that plant closings and idlings in recent months have reduced assembly capacity in North America from 6 million in 2002 to 5 million by the end of this year.

Several things.

First, perhaps GM should figure out what kinds of cars people want to buy, at what prices, and retool their operation to produce those cars, rather than freak and put tens of thousands of people out of work.

Second, this is yet another example of why we really need to start thinking about universal health care. Just because GM lays off those 25,000 does not mean they will not get sick -- it just means that their illnesses must be paid for by other means, and probably a good hunk of that will be in emergency room visits eaten by the hospital, or by Medicare or Medicaid, or some other method that will likely cost more than GM's $1,500.

Third, the GM jobs are nowhere near the only ones affected. Parts manufacturers, car dealerships, insurance and financing corporations... all the industries based on the auto industry.

Fourth, thanks to the joys of an illegal war, stupid subsidies, no-bid contracts, immense tax cuts for the rich, removal of bankruptcy protections, and more pork in the budget than there is in Meridian, Texas, we are rapidly getting to a point where, even if we wanted to, we can't pay for it. Whatever it is we want to pay for, we simply can't pay for it.

In the endless quest for profit uber alles, our economy is being transformed from one based on manufacturing to one based on service. The bottom line, the most bang for the buck, has become the be-all and end-all. That bit about it being "... vital... to improve efficiency at its manufacturing plants" means "making a smaller work force do the same amount as a larger work force".

This is where following only the money takes you. If you keep producing fewer products, and your customer base is financially unable to buy them from you, how do you expect to keep in business?

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. It's all tangled up in the Great Circle of Bushonomics. The tax cuts are too high, the deficits are too high, the price of private health care is too high, and I suspect we're past the point of negotiating these things individually. It's gonna take a crisis.

But that may give the people the Occam's Razor necessary to slice through the Georgian Knot.

I hate to tell you, but socialized medicine is doomed to failure.

Besides, do you really want politicians in charge of a woman's health care? That scares me more than anything else. Bush didn't ban abortion, he just cut off funding for it in government health care. That's the health care you want for everyone?
I hate to tell you, but socialized medicine is doomed to failure.

Out of curiosity, how do you explain the fact that no industrialized nation that has voted to implement universal health care has voted to repeal it, once it became apparent that it was doomed?
Eric -- you (and the articles you cite) take a libertarian point of view. I take a progressive/liberal point of view. I can rattle off a bunch of posts supporting my thoughts on that, contained in some of my earlier posts (essentially, the point of government is to do what individuals cannot, and reasonable taxation is your membership fee in society, for which you receive in return everything from military protection to street signs). Here's an interesting place to start.

As to your concern about politicians unfortunately, they already fancy themselves in charge, and legislate accordingly, now. Ideally, a nationalized health care system would include stronger privacy protections. Dunno if we'll get 'em. Gotta try. Don't extrapolate the worst-case scenario based on the sociopathy of our chimp preznit as the likeliest outcome, especially given how much opposition -- including principled opposition such as your own -- the concept must overcome even to be discussed in the current version of America.
To Anonymous:

I find it funny that you look to the majority of other countries for justification. By that token, since Bush won a majority of votes (all vote scam stories aside), we should aim to be more like Republicans. Obviously the majority view is the correct view!

Tom, in my view point government should not interfering in our freedoms. The free market is not perfect, but government solutions are even worse because then politics gets involved. If we had socialized medicine in the US, there would be even more fights over women's health care while Viagra is handed out like candy. And it's not just Bush I'm worried about, just look at all the Republicans in Congress and the Senate. Our health care decisions should be made by ourselves and our doctors. When you throw politicians into the mix, it becomes the worst case scenario, especially when these politicians are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies. I already see Ritalin being given out like candy.
Eric, I agree with many of your fears and concerns. As I said, though, part of a complete solution is to strengthen privacy rights. I believe that a fully-government-delivered health care financing system would save a hell of a lot of money and cause many fewer problems than the profit-driven morass we're in now. This does not mean I believe the government should be in the business of deciding medical care -- far from it. The doctor-patient relationship must be defended and strengthened.

In the grandest tradition, "government" is supposed to be us. Of the people, by the people, for the people. If you continue to look at all government, rather than just the current pack of crooks and thugs, as the enemy, you might as well give up and go live in a cave. The "government is bad" theme has been, like so many other bullshit premises (e.g., "liberal media"), primarily perpetuated by those who have a vested interest in getting rid of government regulations, cost controls, and other interference, so that they can profit.

We have to win to make things better. We have to use reason, logic, compassion, and fairness all at once. And we cannot let the bastards who want all the money scare us into thinking that we can't do it.
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