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Deika Morrison

Deika Morrison: Reasoning the Reasons

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Befuddled by the Big 3 dilemma

Studies show people are unlikely to buy cars from a bankrupt company. And at the end of the day, there is no guarantee that bankruptcy will protect jobs. So, I don't think bankruptcy is an option and personally, I cannot understand the way the auto companies are being treated. Here's why:
  • The US economy is in recession. Record unemployment. 533,000 jobs lost in November alone. Close to 2 million jobs lost since the beginning of this year. To make matters worse, these numbers do not include those who have given up looking. I don't want to sound alarmist, but this is very very serious - for economic AND social reasons.
  • The Congress and the President (43) has a chance to save, yes save, millions of jobs by providing assistance to the auto industry. This money is to save jobs.
  • Did I say the US is in a recession? So, if the auto industry collapses, these employed people who become unemployed have few options for employment. There is much supply of labor, and little demand. A recession is a very inopportune time to take a hard line of "let them fail" - the broader ramifications for all Americans will be too severe
  • Now, lets look at some of these ramifications. Unemployed people do not have the resources to consume or pay debts in the way that they could when they were employed. Some may not pay debts at all. So who suffers other than the unemployed people? As it turns out, all the companies and their employees that rely on that consumption are affected. Therefore, greater potential for further unemployment and poor company performance. If these companies that produces consumables are publicly traded, then investors will batter the stock price. Battered stocks depress markets, and therefore affecting investment portfolios. Investment portfolios are managed by companies in the financial sector. Who else is affected? All the companies to whom debts are owed are affected. Those companies are also members of the financial sector.
  • Ah, the financial sector. Remember the financial sector? Well, let's revisit that sector for a bit. The sector got itself into a crisis. Note, the auto-makers did not cause the financial sector crisis. And then, the financial sector needed a bailout which they got of $700B. All of this has not been used, but the President won't touch those funds to help the auto sector because its saved for the financial sector. Now, did I mention that despite the bailout, there have been record job cuts in the financial sector? But of course, because saving jobs - unlike the objective of the auto manufacturers - was not the objective. The objective was to stabilize the system, provide confidence in the sector and strengthen institutions. And then, it was HOPED, yes HOPED, that ordinary people would feel the benefits of that by banks doing what they exist to do - provide loans etc. But that never happened, and subsequent interventions and speeches by Secretary Paulson have tried to provide greater consumer benefit. But alas, banks that are not owned by the State cannot be forced to do what they does not believe is in their interest. Private institutions have a responsibility to shareholders, and logically, they sat on the funds they have received. So now, the irony of this situation is that if unemployed people don't pay debts, banks will need more government funds. Unemployed people consume significantly less, so those companies that produce consumables bring in less revenues and have a harder time paying debts, so banks will need more government funds. And then if the auto industry fails, there will be no new business from millions of consumers who need credit to buy cars, so banks will need more government funds. So now, the banks' current and future prospects look pretty dim. So, you'd think they'd encourage the government to give $34B to the auto industry. The auto industry is asking for a loan.
  • Now, here's the best part. The financial sector started this crisis. And had it not been for the crisis, the auto industry would not be at the precipice at this point in time. Yet, its having a much harder time getting approval (even with all the strings and concessions) for a smaller amount of funds for direct consumer and economic benefit when the financial sector received multiples more (much of which is unaccounted for). So, when the sector gets in trouble again what will happen? Well, the financial sector will get more money of course. And it will argue that there was no problem with the auto industry at the time of the approval of the $700B, so therefore this need is unforeseen and therefore the sector needs money in addition to the $700B. Yet, because the sector has been hit badly the sector will have to engage in more layoffs (did that the first time). And then because the companies in the financial sector are private, the Government will beg them to lend to ordinary people etc., and they will refuse.
  • And through it all, millions of people would have lost their jobs as a result of the collapse of the auto industry, and maybe millions more in the financial sector and other industries as a result. More companies are unlikely to survive, and those who do survive and do not perform satisfactorily and are publicly traded will get a battering from investors. The stock market may be depressed further, taking with it confidence. And the bailout costs will just rise way above $34B now being refused to the auto industry now. More cost, less jobs. Does this make sense to anyone?

No doubt the auto sector needs reform. No doubt the political protection has hurt them and has not forced them to become competitive. No doubt that taxpayers money should never be wasted.

But, the cost of this unemployment will be far greater than $34B. And there seems to be sufficient foundation to base the new manufacturing for the new America. If these auto companies do not make green cars, they can be retooled to make green machinery ( wind turbines etc). Allowing skilled workers to lose their skills and allowing machinery to become rusted is not the answer to this problem.

The auto industry needs a transition plan. And it needs transition funds to tide it over. Otherwise, the cost of starting over - for it and the rest of the country - is just far too great to contemplate.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Richardson Promotion

No, I did not mistype - I really think Bill Richardson just got tapped for a major promotion. I don't understand why the view persists that he's been passed over for Secretary of State, and that given that as well as his impressive credentials, that he has somehow been demoted by being named as the nominee for Secretary of Commerce. In my humble view, nothing could be further from the truth.

So why is the Richardson appointment a promotion? Because he has one of the most important jobs in the Cabinet. Look at what he is expected to achieve (from the Commerce Department's website):

"The historic mission of the Department is "to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce" of the United States. This has evolved, as a result of legislative and administrative additions, to encompass broadly the responsibility to foster, serve, and promote the Nation's economic development and technological advancement. The Department fulfills this mission by:

a. Participating with other Government agencies in the creation of national policy, through the President's Cabinet and its subdivisions.

b. Promoting and assisting international trade.

c. Strengthening the international economic position of the United States.

d. Promoting progressive domestic business policies and growth.

e. Improving comprehension and uses of the physical environment and its oceanic life.

f. Ensuring effective use and growth of the Nation's scientific and technical resources.

g. Acquiring, analyzing, and disseminating information regarding the Nation and the economy to help achieve increased social and economic benefit.

h. Assisting states, communities, and individuals with economic progress."

What's the reality?
  • The US has been in a recession for a year and faces the real possibility of depression. The world is in a global slump
  • For the ten months of this year, 1.2 million jobs have been lost. An unconfirmed estimated 250,000 additional were lost in November
  • Much global hostility towards the US does actually stem from the way other countries were "encouraged" to adopt globalization.
  • All the states are in dire need of budgetary support as a result of the economic and financial crisis.
  • One of the major industries in the US - the automobile industry - is on the brink of collapse and is seeking budgetary support from the Government
  • The Government has significant involvement in the private sector (the banks, for example) and I expect this will increase in the short run out of necessity.
This situation is dire for the US. The economy must recover - that is not optional. Global interdependence means that the rest of the world also needs the US to recover.

Why is Bill Richardson uniquely suited to this post?
  • He is a former congressman - a useful experience to persuade Congress to adopt groundbreaking legislation related to a green economy and green jobs
  • He will be a former Governor - a useful experience to bridge the understanding between the States and Federal Government to achieve progress where real cooperation is needed for policies that are efficient and produce results
  • He has held portfolio responsibility for Energy - a useful experience to find that required balance for sustainable development; to understand the complexities and nuances that must be overcome with respect to global political and commercial interests to advance and achieve progress on an affordable green agenda.
  • He has held responsibility as a UN Ambassador - a useful experience for that much needed diplomacy in trade negotiations which if effective can reduce tensions between the US and the rest of the world, improve the image of the US, and importantly evolve a more sustainable globalization model
  • His Latino background provides an innate understanding of some of the more challenging economy related governance aspects in US history (as it relates to immigration reform, for example); and will be - in my opinion - particularly useful in finding a new path for small business development which has historically been the source of job growth in the US
At this time in history where the US economy must recover but with employment (I once said that jobless growth is a hollow victory), must grow but only sustainably, and must lead without dominating, it is my considered view that the role of the Secretary of Commerce will take on a significance it has not before. How could it not if the Obama agenda calls for a fundamental change in domestic economic policy? Obama ran on a platform of a new America - and so "business as usual" will not do. (It wasn't anyway which is why we are in the global mess we are in).

Bill Richardson, in my view, has not been demoted. If he achieves a green agenda, win-win trade reform, and a sustainable growth path with sustainable jobs for a sustainable planet, Bill Richardson will be one of the most important people in this Administration, and the world.
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Reasoning The Reasons by Deika Morrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.