Outside the Box (OR Why Cars?)

You may have heard that Chrysler and GM went back to Washington this week to beg for more money from the government.

Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and Robert Reich all made some remarkably similar points about what the real objective is, and should be.

Yglesias:

[I]f every country around the world insists on sinking more and more money not into its nation’s car companies instead of into its people who work for car companies then we’ll have a situation where the whole industry just keeps shrinking and sinking slowly.

Klein:

Deciding that this is not the time to lose the jobs provided by GM cannot be the same as deciding that we can never lose GM.

Reich:

Why pay the Big Three billions of taxpayer dollars to stay afloat when, even after being bailed out, they cut tens of thousands of American jobs, slash wages, and shrink their American operations into small fractions of what they used to be?

That’s backwards. The auto bailout should help American autoworkers keep their jobs or get new ones that pay almost as well.

The common thread, of course, that spending taxpayer money on companies that will cut some of those same taxpayers’ jobs is pretty ridiculous. So, here’s what I’m wondering:

Would it be possible for the government to invest the same money to retool the auto production lines to produce something other than cars? It was done in WWII, of course, I’m just really sure about the cost.

And, what might we have them produce? I’m thinking that we’ll need some high speed trains to run on all those high speed rail lines we just agreed to build.

I’m sure it’d be taken as undue government interference in the private market, but if the objective is to keep people working and producing useful things, it seems like it’d be more effective if those troubled auto makers stopped making cars that no one wants or can afford to buy.

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