To be clear, when I compared arguments for bailing out the auto industry to arguments I feel for before the invasion of Iraq, I’m not saying that the consequences of bailing out the car industry would be as catastrophic as the consequences of invading Iraq. I’m saying there’s a certain structural similarity in the arguments I’m hearing. Specifically, I’m hearing a lot of progressives say things like “WE MUST BAIL OUT DETROIT!!!!!! (but it’s important to do it with these conditions)” rather than things like “WE MUST NOT BAIL THESE COMPANIES OUT UNLESS THEY MEET THESE CONDITIONS.” But if you want to actually get these conditions, you need to position yourself as much more skeptical of the overall merits of this idea. Once we accept the notion that letting these firms go bankrupt is unacceptable, then we guarantee that no conditions will actually be met.
Meanwhile, it’s hardly as if current (and possibly soon-to-be-former) employees of General Motors and their suppliers are the only people hurting at the moment. Circuit City declared bankruptcy and is laying people off. Citigroup is laying off thousands of people. The City of Detroit is full of poor people who aren’t lucky enough to have jobs at the “big three.” And whether or not you buy the idea that the US car companies have gotten religion on making more fuel efficient cars, the fact remains that at the very moment this debate is playing out the car companies are fighting in the policy domain for a badly flawed Dingell-Boucher climate change proposal. Progressives shouldn’t be eager to hand taxpayer money over to companies that are going to use the funds to try to block key progressive policy initiatives.