The real Hummer: The Big Three were downsizing before the bailout.
Call it "lemon socialism'' - the auto bailout engineered by North America's two neo-con governments as the year ended is an exercise in putting deadbeat corporations on the dole.
So here's a New Year's resolution for us all: let's push politicians to end this sacrificial offering to the gods who deregulated markets - before the cupboard is bare.
What we really need is investment in local infrastructure for sunrise industries that make the things we need, thereby shifting the focus from mobility of goods to local provision and access.
By contrast, auto is a sunset industry from the horse-and-buggy age. Urban density, local food and extended public transit show us the future - and the private car is less and less in it. Nor is there any expectation that the $4 billion handout will guarantee jobs.
Downsizing was well advanced before the economic downturn. The Big Bailed-Out Three have shed 17,000 jobs since 2002, and plan to show the door to as many as 20,000 more in efforts to delay certain bankruptcy. This is an industry that's dumping, not creating good jobs.
Free marketers and free traders pooh-pooh the kind of government intervention that shaped the 1960s North American Auto Pact. This required car makers to divvy up the jobs in both countries in proportion to sales. It was called "managed trade'' and it could have spread to the global industry, guaranteeing good jobs equitably around the world and protecting taxpayers from having to pay incentives to lure manufacturers into their area.
Instead, we ended up with free markets, which meant incentives in good times and bailouts in bad.
According to a September United Nations Environment Program report on Green Jobs, car subsidies compare poorly to other kinds of industries. For example, giving $50 billion yearly to approximately 100,000 conservation areas worldwide "could secure $5 trillion worth of services while generating millions of new jobs and securing livelihoods for rural and indigenous peoples."
The folks at UNEP call for a Global Green New Deal that spends money on projects providing long-term public value and payroll, so all the money goes into job creation.
Spending on an auto industry joyride requires the public to close its eyes to the reality of overproduction. North American stats show that most car owners - a minority of the world's people, and a group that's not growing fast in an unequal world - already own two cars, many under warranty.
We may have hit the era of peak car before we hit the age of peak oil.
However much the Old Three try to catch up with the trend to smaller, alternative-fuel cars, they can only run, not hide, from a global crisis of over-production. And the future reality is that cars don't fit in a densely urbanized world. Rail and public transit are more effective for getting around than private cars in traffic jams. More important, getting around isn't as important as it once was.
New communications technologies mean we can move electrons without moving atoms, so we can telecommute, teleconference and attend webinars without having to get stuck in gridlock or spend hours at airports.
Local food enthusiasts are at the forefront of this paradigm revolution. Without the overhead expenses of bricks, mortar, freezers and parking lots that supermarkets have to pay, farmers' markets can situate in public spaces within walking distance of home.
Urban agriculture of the future will work on greening the one-third of civic space given over to car support: driveways, eight-laners and parking lots - enough to provide a city with many food basics.
Lest we forget, the most expensive, albeit invisible, subsidy to car manufacturers is in the tax-financed cascade of giveaways. All the parking lots taxed at virtually zero, all the roads widened, patched and quickly snowplowed (less wait-time there than in most hospitals) - these are subsidies that tie our public money up in mobility instead of access.
Ever more subsidies are the only things keeping car manufacture from riding off into the sunset.3