Friday, January 4, 2008

Hand in pocket

What happened to Adam Smith's invisible hand that guides capitalists to do the best things for the most people? Yesterday's news that Japanese carmaker Toyota outsold Ford to become the second largest automaker in the world in 2007 is the latest bad news in a long run of it for the U.S. automobile industry. Ford had been the No. 2 automaker in the world for more than 70 years, but the U.S. auto industry has been in decline for decades. Why? Well, it isn't bad luck. It's nearly 35 years since the oil embargo of 1973 yet the United States still doesn't have a small car as good as the Japanese have been building for decades. What's that about? Haven't U.S. automakers had enough time to realize that efficiency and low-emissions were vital to competing on the world stage? Why does the U.S. government give tax breaks for building inefficient cars? The effects of this threaten more than the bottom line of a few companies — there are tens of thousands of jobs at stake, and the well-being of tens of thousands of families. Maybe there ought to be criminal penalties for messing up so badly — if money doesn't move them, avoiding prison ought to be a big enough incentive to encourage these characters to do a better job.

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