Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.
~ Henry Ford
Update: This article was featured in the Carnival of Money Stories – Starting a Sideline Edition posted at The Financial Blogger. Thanks!
If only the government had followed the advice of Henry Ford when it came time to decide whether or not to let GM and Chrysler fail. I recently made the case that a failure to fail has made a pretty big contribution to our current financial problems and I pointed to the auto bailouts as an example of this unhealthy trend. I live in Windsor, Ontario, traditionally a huge employment centre for the big 3 automakers. Mr. Cents and I both grew up here. We lived in various parts of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) for about 5 years, but returned home 12 years ago. (Has it been that long already?)
Unions carry a pretty big stick in this city. Many of my relatives, neighbours, and friends are directly or indirectly employed in (or retired from) the auto industry. There is a prevailing, if somewhat shaken, support for unions in general and the CAW (Canadian Auto Workers) specifically. Many people here support the idea that we should all buy vehicles made by GM, Ford, or Chrysler.
Out of a Job Yet? Keep Buying Foreign.
I’m not sure what it’s like where you live, but I can’t hit the road in Windsor without coming face to face with numerous bumper stickers carrying slogans like the one in the title of this section. I felt terrible when the financial crisis hit and decimated our local economy – not that you couldn’t have seen it coming the way the auto industry was proceeding. A lot of folks here were out of work for a long time while Chrysler and GM were in bankruptcy.
Still, I can’t help but feel upset when I see those bumper stickers. After all, the majority of us don’t have the inflated wages or gold-plated benefits and pension packages that many of these employees enjoy. Further, our tax dollars have gone to bailing out GM and Chrysler, as well as the jobs, benefits, and pensions that go with them.
A lot of other people lost their businesses and jobs. They received no government loans. They have no pension. And now, as these big 3 supporters drive down the road in their subsidized vehicles, they also want to tell us which car we should buy – or else.
That doesn’t sit well with me. I’m sure I’m not alone, but it’s not advisable to make opinions like that known in these parts. You can become persona non grata (or worse) pretty quickly.
Still, there are those, even in this city, who draw a direct line from the government loans given to Chrysler and GM, to the growing government deficits and debt, to the new HST here in Ontario. They see it as no coincidence that, less than 2 years after the auto bailout, they are being hit with increased expenses as a result of the Harmonized Sales Tax, which went into effect in Ontario on July 1st, 2010. Oh Canada.
What’s a Foreign Car?
I guess the idea is that we should support our local economy by buying domestic vehicles. But what is a domestic vehicle? What if your GM car is built in Mexico? What about a Toyota that’s built in the southern U.S., or even a few kilometres down the 401 in Woodstock, Ontario? What if it’s assembled here, but all of the parts come from offshore, or vice versa? What about the fact that Chrysler is mostly owned by Fiat (an Italian car maker)?
I actually do like the idea of supporting local businesses whenever possible. But I think I would be more likely to buy their products if I actually felt like they were superior to the alternatives. I’m less likely to want to support a company with a history of shoddy management which I already support through generous government loans, or one that uses coercion or veiled threats to get me to buy.
Should I patronize a restaurant owned by a friend even though the service isn’t very good and I don’t like the food? The whole idea of capitalism is that the cream is supposed to rise to the top. If your company makes a product that suits my needs at a price I can afford to pay, and offers consistently higher quality and service, I’m going to buy from you rather than your competitor. If your competitor offers the better product, service or experience, I think I should be free to buy from them without a guilty conscience.
Do you think it’s wrong to buy a car from anyone but the big 3? Does it factor into your purchase decision at all?