Obama, Paulson have the minus touch
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is the anti-Midas: Everything Paulson touches, rather than turn to gold, crumbles into ruin.
This is because Paulson refuses to learn the resoundingly clear lesson of the last several weeks: Government meddling in the economy makes the economy weaker.
Unfortunately, this lesson also is lost on Barack Obama, who recently proclaimed that “what you see in FDR that I hope my team can emulate is not always getting it right, but projecting a sense of confidence and a willingness to try things and experiment.”
It was precisely FDR’s false confidence and mishmash of socialist experimentation that prolonged the Great Depression for years, causing misery for millions.
As regards the next four years, I suggest as author Ayn Rand wrote, “be as unreassured as you have the wits to be.”
Detroit, put ‘clean car’ R&D in overdrive
Six years ago, I got a chance to tool around in General Motors’ car of the future. And, no, it was not a hybrid, which was then just beginning to enter the public’s consciousness.
Hybrids, I was assured by GM reps, merely represented a “bridge” to something better and smarter: the hydrogen car. GM would be skipping the hybrid “fad” and instead preparing for the hydrogen economy that was just around the corner.
Oops. What’s now around the corner for GM is bankruptcy, a federal bailout – or both.
Thus it was a bit sad to learn that while GM execs were begging Congress for cash, one of the company’s biggest foreign competitors was making jaws drop at the Los Angeles Auto Show as Honda unveiled its new hydrogen-powered car, a prototype called the FC Sport.
The concept car looks cool and futuristic, a huge contrast to GM’s HydroGen1 which I took for a spin around suburban Washington, D.C., on that rainy day in 2006. In typical unimaginative Detroit fashion, GM’s car of the future was a minivan, and it drove with all the foot-to-the-floor excitement of a golf cart.
Hydrogen cars will not be in many driveways soon, and Honda is the only carmaker pursuing the technology seriously these days.
Still, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for GM, even though the company was responding more to government prodding to produce a “clean car” than to market signals. GM annually spends about half as much on research and development as its Japanese rivals.
It’s hard to keep up with the Joneses in R&D when you are paying $73 in hourly wages to make your cars, as American automakers under the yoke of the United Auto Workers do.
As Mitt Romney – the son of a former car company executive – pointed out in a recent op-ed in The New York Times, union labor costs put U.S. automakers in a $2,000-per-vehicle hole versus its international competitors before the car even gets on the assembly line.
Honda still has the corporate nimbleness and capital flexibility to imagine the hydrogen future and serve a market that does not yet exist. Just imagine what the American auto industry could do if it did not have to carry the regulatory and labor burdens that are dragging it into irrelevancy.
They might even be able to meet the demands of the market as it exists today – the car of the present with gas-burning engines – while devoting more R&D to the car of tomorrow.
James G. Lakely
Infotech & Telecom News