The car industry has driven most world trends for the past hundred years, be it the rise of assembly line factories, automation, suburbia, sprawl, drive-throughs, pollution, teen sex or traffic jams. Model changes are what the auto industry does best.
So when Ontario and the feds, egged on by the progressive Canadian Auto Workers union and NDP, feel it's necessary to outbid Alabama, Mississippi and Texas for the privilege of having car factories here, we're watching economic and political history switch gears.
Last week, when General Motors announced its $2.5-billion investment in Ontario, it was discovered that the lure was a $435-million provincial and federal aid package. In the past year, in total, well over half a billion dollars in government giveaways have sweetened deals for Ford and GM assembly plants, and that amount will double over the next year as other carmakers make their way to the same trough.
For the public to be taken on an expensive ride like this takes framing. Farmers, like Toronto city government and its public transit managers, don't know about framing, which is why the financial assistance they need is called a bailout. You can imagine what it would be called in the rest of the country if the car money went to benefit Toronto instead of Oshawa, Oakville, Windsor and St. Catharines.
Kids from poor families don't know about framing, so the investment they need to buy healthy food and get support at school is called welfare, which is a drain on the economy governments say they just can't afford .
Giant U.S. auto companies, among the biggest and most powerful in the world, don't need bailouts very often, and they don't get them. That's because framing is job one. They get R&D and high-tech incentives instead. The spinmeisters say the car plants bring high-tech jobs, a nice way of saying that all the public money goes to pay for machines, not jobs.
The actual cost of buying a job this way can be as much as $270,224 per job - at least according to a study by Carleton University's Maureen Molot of "locational tournaments" aimed at wooing car manufacturers across North America.
Without framing, we'd be talking about mad car, not mad cow; blackmail by the world's biggest polluters and pollutocrats, not sweeteners for innovation.
The master framers, it turns out, were the people who talked up free trade, the driver of free-market economics and government policy. Free trade has put government giveaways to big corporations on autopilot.
Until a short time ago, Ontario governments paid very little to the auto biz other than about $10 billion a year for building, repairing and policing freeways (the framing behind that word is even better than for free trade), and the cost of medical bills for car accidents, all a subsidy to car-based transportation systems.
Southern Ontario has great location, closer to more major U.S. markets than many places in the U.S., has direct access to unlimited cheap water for industrial processes and sewage, and, thanks to good government policies, has skilled workers, safe cities and the cheapest medical plan in North America. So what needed sweetening?
Thanks to the Auto Pact of the 1960s, not much. The agreement required U.S. auto giants to keep car production here in line with car sales. If Canadians bought 100,000 cars a year, then Canadians should build 100,000 cars a year. The deal was called managed trade - or we might call it "fair trade.'
If managed trade had been framed properly, it would have been called "free" - at least for taxpayers. Taxpayers didn't have to pay a dime to get U.S. carmakers to build here. They just had to elect a government that would support and protect the Auto Pact. As long as voters did that, governments had over half a billion dollars free every year to invest in poor kids so they'd have a fair chance in a high-tech world.
Instead, those kids got framed by free traitors, excuse me, traders.
In 1999, the World Trade Organization ruled (I can't remember when we elected that government or watched the appointment of its judiciary, but nevertheless it ruled) that the Auto Pact restricted trade. Managed trade was a no-no since it discriminated against auto companies that weren't part of the Auto Pact deal, particularly the Japanese auto companies that filed the suit at the WTO.
Beginning in 1999, Ontario and Canada started losing ground in the bidding war for new auto plants, and the CAW began its campaign to pressure governments to "step up to the plate" - baseball framing talk for giving hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to U.S. auto investors.
In the name of free trade and prohibition of government interference in the economy, we get the end of low-cost government interference in the economy by regulation, and the intensification of high-cost government interference in the economy by subsidizing rich investors. This is a form of government interference that isn't banned by the free market über-traders at the WTO.
We also get the decline of high-cost government interference in the economy by spending on programs that overcome damage to the environment and help people on limited incomes. That's what free trade, unframed, is about. It's not enough to just cut services - governments also have to grease the big wheels, at great cost to taxpayers.
Part of the skill of framing, of course, lies in the magician's art of distracting people with unimportant events so they miss important ones. The unimportant event is a penny from gas tax for cities like Toronto. Can we find a smarter way to entrench dependence on automobiles forevermore? The gas tax certainly attracted attention and commanded applause.
But did Toronto, centre of food processing in Canada and second only to Chicago in North American food processing, get an R&D dime to keep its food industry up to date? Food is so old-fashioned, so labour-intensive, provides so many jobs to people who can't find work in the high-tech economy, offers so many opportunities for entrepreneurs from immigrant communities. Why would that deserve government funding?
And why would provincial and federal governments rush to deal with the fact that Toronto-based economic sectors in the arts, entertainment, information, publishing, educational and professional services - the breeding grounds for "creatives" and the knowledge economy of the future - have all gone flat or declined in the past year?
Do we see money for cultural R&D? Of course not. That would pamper folks who should be looking for honest work contributing to global warming in places like Oakville, Oshawa, St. Catharines and Windsor, where people have learned to live without government handouts.