Ten years since the bailouts

Kevin Williamson of National Review Online looks back at the decade of evidence surrounding the government bailouts of 2008.

General Motors just shared some very bad news: It is closing five factories in the United States and Canada, eliminating 15 percent of its work force (and 25 percent of its executives), and getting out of the passenger-car business almost entirely to focus on SUVs and trucks. President Donald Trump threw a fit, but GM shrugged him off. The facts are the facts.

What did U.S. taxpayers get for their $11.2 billion bailout of GM? About ten years of business-as-usual, and one very expensive lesson.

Bailouts don’t work.

Never mind the moral hazard, the rent-seeking, the cronyism and the favoritism, and all of the inevitable corruption that inevitably accompanies multibillion-dollar sweetheart deals between Big Business and Big Government. Set aside the ethical questions entirely and focus on the mechanics: Businesses such as GM get into trouble not because of one-time events in the wider economic environment, but because they are so weak as businesses that they cannot weather one-time events in the wider economic environment. …

… So, things are grim for GM.

On the car front, anyway. GM has a much healthier business selling trucks and SUVs, a business that it now will focus its resources on — as it should have done long ago. Why didn’t it do that?

In part, because we — you and me, suckers — paid them not to. We were told that we simply must bail out General Motors during the financial crisis because if we failed to, that would lead to a bloodbath of job losses and cascading business failures. But the job losses were always going to come: Paying people to build things that consumers don’t really want isn’t a sustainable business model. That’s a reality you cannot bail your way out of.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...