Congress is stupid. Really.
Amid all of the debate in Washington over what to do and whom to help to solve this financial crisis, our legislators are ignoring one critical and imperiled industry. It's piling up losses, overburdened by debt, and unable to attract consumers who have cut back on spending. And even a Hail Mary merger between its principal players will not save it.
Stock in its flagship company has dropped more than 90% this year, and something needs to be done.
So listen up Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and all the rest: Forget about the auto industry. Now is the time to save Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) .
Yes, I'm kidding
In reality, there's no good reason for the government to step in and save satellite radio. It's a terrible business that's done nothing but pile up losses and disappoint shareholders. It can't compete with the Internet, podcasts, or MP3s. The business destroys value. If the government were to loan it money, it would never see that money again.
Bailing out satellite radio is a ridiculous notion. No one -- not even the politicians in Washington (let's hope) -- is considering it. Yet Washington is considering a hefty bailout for U.S. automakers -- an industry with much more in common with satellite radio than anyone would like to believe.
Ford (NYSE: F ) , General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , and Chrysler do not deserve taxpayer dollars. They are poorly run companies that have shown they cannot compete in the global economy. Like satellite radio, they've done nothing but pile up losses and disappoint shareholders for a decade. They're also overburdened by debt and hamstrung by labor relations.
Yet at the same time the financial bailout was being passed in September, Congress approved $25 billion in low-interest rate loans for the "Big 3" to retool their assembly lines to make more fuel-efficient cars. More recently, we're getting word out of Washington that the automakers are back lobbying Congress to get more money, more quickly. They even want access to the $700 billion previously approved for the financial sector. We're also hearing that Chrysler would like the government to subsidize a merger between it and one of its American peers.
Let's be clear: This would not create a healthy company. Instead, it would bail out a terrible investment decision by Cerberus Capital Management (apparently, John Snow wasn't just in over his head at the Treasury Department) and create an even bigger liability for the government down the line.
This is where we draw the line
When we bailed out the financial companies, we didn't like it, but we did it. And at The Motley Fool, we supported the move. In that case, the consequences of inaction would have been severe and far-reaching.
Had there been no rescue package for financial institutions, the credit markets would have frozen up. In turn, the housing market would have collapsed, and healthy businesses small and large would have been unable to meet payroll, finance inventory, or expand. Quickly, America's depression would have spread around the world, as demand for everything from gasoline to toys dried up, paralyzing manufacturing and service sectors. It would have been a global financial apocalypse.
But if Sirius XM or Ford or GM goes out of business, none of that will happen. Yes, a segment of Americans will lose their jobs. But that would not mean the end for auto manufacturing in America. After all, the leading U.S. auto manufacturer isn't Ford, GM or Chrysler. It's Toyota -- a Tokyo-based company that has opened plants in Kentucky, Indiana, California, and Texas.
But autoworker unions and the candidates they support are not keen on Toyota, because Toyota factories are not unionized. In other words, bailout funds would not help a vital part of our economy, but would instead preserve entrenched political interests.
Don't do it
While surviving financial firms such as AIG (NYSE: AIG ) , Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) and JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM ) may have overreached, they can recover alongside our domestic economy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for auto manufacturers, satellite radio, airlines, or any other industry with fundamentally poor economics. Bailing out the automakers would throw good money after bad, in the name of an outdated belief that companies like Ford, GM, and Chrysler are the backbone of the American economy.
This is not the first time our country has been confronted with this choice. At the time of the early-1980s government bailout of Chrysler, David Henderson of the Cato Institute wondered: "Should the U.S. government let Chrysler fail? Let's reword the question: Should the government force taxpayers to subsidize a company whose products do not meet the market test?"
Rather than spend billions to support companies that can't compete in the global economy, Congress should divert some of those funds to help retrain workers who need to find work with companies better suited for success. Call your representatives in Congress and tell them to oppose additional money for the automakers. Our economy needs to be healthy again -- not propped up in its sickbed by another dose of dumb money.