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Failing Like Japan

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In 1990 I spent a heady summer living in a very rural part of Japan. It was an incredible time to be there, the dawning of the age of Japanese hegemony. Japanese land, which comprised less than 0.1% of the world, was being valued at an estimated $20 trillion dollars, or 20% of the world's wealth at that time. Business leaders the world round were flooding into Japan to study the "Japanese Economic Miracle," and sought to implement its keiretsu and zaibatsu corporate structures.

We were in the middle of nowhere, but all around our little town, land was being chewed up to build golf courses that offered memberships primarily to businessmen from Okayama and Osaka, cities that were each a multi-hour ferry and train ride away. The cost of membership ran in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there was a long waiting list.

It didn't last.

The trouble with the Japanese miracle was that its basis wasn't management superiority -- though the country had some of the most admired companies in the world, including Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) and Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) . Rather, the miracle in Japan was based upon over-loaning from the government to industrial conglomerates, which led, inevitably, to a bubble.

Unfortunately, the aftereffects of the Japanese bubble persist to this day, and they have deep implications as the American government considers making bailout loans to the Big Three: General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , Ford (NYSE: F  ) , and Chrysler.

Why Japan continues to fail
In late 1989 the Nikkei 225, Japan's leading stock index, hit an intraday high of 38,957. Today, 19 years later, it's at 8,800. This multi-decade loss speaks to two things -- one, just how out of control Japan's asset bubble was, and two, for the sake of maintaining jobs, the Japanese government has not made the hard decisions that would have allowed the country to grow.

In the aftermath of the bubble, Japan's government rushed in to prop up its banking system, which was teetering under the weight of nonperforming loans. Rather than letting businesses fail, this has had the effect of propping them up to continue operating. To this day the scope of the problem is still not known.

Without this information, investors both in Japan and outside have made a logical conclusion -- to take their investment dollars elsewhere. Japan's industrial sector has failed to meet its cost of capital over the last 20 years, in large measure because the government has allowed capital-destroying companies to continue to operate. Had these companies been allowed to fail, Japan long ago could have flushed out its system and gotten back on the road to economic health. In the name of protecting jobs, Japan's economy has continued to sputter, punctuated by spectacular bankruptcies in cases where the facade could not hold up. The cost of propping them up has been much, much more economic pain. Japanese call the long economic downturn ushinawareta junen, the lost decade.

Sure, but it's not your job we're talking about
As I look at the pressure being placed on the U.S. government to bail out or even nationalize American auto manufacturers, I see the same faulty logic being used. So desperate is the government to protect these jobs and these massive companies that it is willing to spend taxpayer money to keep Detroit afloat. It might be a good use of capital if the Big Three were thriving companies that had simply suffered from exogenous events that they'd reacted to improperly. But they aren't. These companies are sick and dying, and they have not generated a positive capital return in decades.

It's not as if this were an unpredictable outcome, as I noted in 2003 when GM raised $13 billion in debt to shore up its pension system. To what end would we bail out these companies? To keep them from collapsing? Wake up -- they have already collapsed.

The "end," of course, would be to keep thousands of jobs, particularly in Michigan and Indiana, from disappearing, to keep pensioners from being mauled at a point in their lives when they cannot afford it. These are loyal, good company people. What is happening at the Big Three affects them deeply, and it is both unfair and cruel. To think otherwise would be inhumane. I have some experience here, as my own grandfather's pension withered away as the textile company he devoted his life to collapsed, in no small part because it refused to relocate its factories to cheaper places.

But economic growth only comes when capital is allowed to flow to its most productive uses. I am very sorry, but propping up Detroit's dinosaurs is not productive. They have destroyed capital for a generation. They have too much debt, they have above-market labor costs, they have shown minimal aptitude at developing automobiles that people want to buy at prices that allow the companies to turn a profit. They are losing to Toyota and Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) . Their parts suppliers are, as a group, collapsing, with Dana Holding Corporation (NYSE: DAN  ) and Visteon (NYSE: VC  ) teetering on the precipice.

Pain delayed is not pain avoided
There are no good answers here -- none at all. Whichever way we go, there is going to be substantial pain in the American auto industry. But a government bailout of recidivist capital destroyers is a particularly bad idea, as it perpetuates the destruction, and delays capital formation for more productive uses. It is a bitter, bitter pill. Better to let the Big Three take their medicine, attempt to reorganize in bankruptcy and attempt to emerge anew as smaller, more nimble competitors.

At a minimum, it helps keep the Japan scenario off the table. It's been easy to see that the political decisions made in Japan to protect companies and jobs have been destructive. I've often thought that one of the reasons American capitalism is superior is our willingness to allow companies to fail. Now I'm not so sure.

More views on a Big Three bailout:

Bill Mann keeps a framed stock certificate from his grandfather's company, Cannon Mills. He holds none of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (68) | Recommend This Article (243)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 4:02 PM, nofoollikeanold wrote:

    Very scary, but all too likely right on the mark. On the other hand, could the Volt be a game-saver, allowing any government loan package to actually succeed a few years down the road and make a profit for both GM and the taxpayer? Or will the price of oil continue to tumble, resurrecting the "drive to work in an SUV or Truck" public mentality, allowing The Big Three to go back to their old ways? Now that's REALLY scary!

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 4:56 PM, ebarrett4 wrote:

    Capitalism only works when you have competition. This article is spot on. Let the Big 3 duke it out on their own. At least one will survive and be a better company for it. If anything, the government should only be concerned with the pensions and social benefits for the unemployed while transitioning them to new jobs. Let failed businesses fail.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 5:02 PM, RobtAlan wrote:

    First, isn't Chryler a Mercedes problem now? We've bailed them out before to watch them sold to Daimler-Benz, now it's an American problem again? Have Daimler turn over all the keyes and we'll talk. Ford and GM are US must be spared as they are necessary for jobs and technical knowledge. However, it would be best to sell them off to the Koreans or Indians.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 5:05 PM, angelwithwings wrote:

    While I agree on the article; and the comments to a point; I need to point out the obvious fact that the Japanese automakers now in a commanding position were also helped tremendously by the Japanese government during the period.

    Personally, I do not support a bailout of any kind.

    Morally, I think the playing field should be equal.

    To that end, I propose that the FEDs give consumer a very significant Detroit-Big-3 coupon to any US resident usable on their tax return to equalize the field.

    The Japanese auto manufacturers have had a free ride for too long. From zero percent money; to direct government involvement. That has to stop.

    Finally, a japanese car with final assembly in Alabama is a japanese car; not an american car. How about a truth-in-car-advertising law too...

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 5:13 PM, dancinglight wrote:

    Money loaned to the Big 3 is completely wasted at this point. Better they go bankrupt, figure out how to take care of their current pensioners, and reorganize to be a good workable business. It will be terrible for them, but as a taxpayer I am SO VERY TIRED of bankrolling every government "help those in need" program whether it is Wall Street or the Rust Belt. Let me keep my money and produce or buy what I choose-it is much more efficient than the Feds pretend to be. This theft by the government is making everyone lose trust in the Feds judgment and motives.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 5:42 PM, pocopanda wrote:

    Lets look at this another way.

    If we let the 3 auto manufacturers fail, we will probably cause a direct and indirect increase in the unemployment rate of up to 3.5 million more people. At a guess of 4 people to a household, that will impact 14 million citizens.

    These people are consumers. These people live in homes with mortgages. These peoplle will be added to the list of homeowners who may then go into foreclosure.

    These people will slow their spending immediately.

    If we let them fail, consumer confidence will plummet.

    The U.S. economy will feel like a snowball rolling down a hill getting bigger and bigger. Watch what it will do to the U.S. dollar and the stock market in general.

    If you don't want to add to the risk of going from a recession to a depression, don't let the auto industry fail.

    The auto industry needs to be saved but it cannot simply produce the same costly vehicles. To date, priority was on bigger cars and truck and SUV vehicles with faster and faster gas gussling engines.

    They need to change their priority to making smaller, higher quality, greener and much morre fuel efficient vehicles. At the same same, cut out all the fat cat costs. Forget the big horsepower.

    That is why they have been losing to Asian and European car manufacturers.

    I don't think it would be wise to have the largest country in the world unable to sustain an at home automobile industry.

    Jobs are the key to every thriving economy.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 5:57 PM, ccchecking wrote:

    I worked for an American Company with a Japanese partner in Japan during the late 1980's and saw the average man pouring over the stock market on busses, trains, the subway and while waiting everywhere. They were hooked on gambling on the stock market meanwhile their banking system was slow and outmoded. Their problems are co-mingled with their culture. This is not the situation with the USA.

    I think that we need to bolster the foundation companies of our society if they agree and perform changes to their normal way of doing business. The high outlandish pay for CEO's, lavish meetings etc. must stop. The recipients of government money backing need to follow a bare bones formula that has yet to be established in order to get the economy back on track.

    Also, all pensions granting full benefits to workers after 20 years of service whether or not they have reached the current social security benefit age - needs to be stopped. We need one age benefit standard. I for one as a taxpayer do not want to pay healthy persons pensions if they have not yet reached the Social Security age that Congress votes on. Let us keep companies like the Auto industry and also city and state governments from going bankrupt just to fund the pension plans for healthy workers who retire at ages younger than normal social security ages.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 5:57 PM, kayakmastr wrote:

    Bill is right on target. The whole industry went down the wrong pay many years ago because the auto workers union had a monopoly on labor and there was no outside competition. As soon as auto imports came on the scene, the US auto industry was doomed by their labor contracts. The dollars should not go to Ford and GM but should be used to take over the retirement and health benefits of retirees as these poor folks have no alternatives, but not at 100%, they need to contribute back since their labor contracts were so rich. The dollar also should go to retrain the workers and promote new forward looking initiatives addressing energy and pollution issues. The only long term viable source of energy is the Sun, meanwhile coal is cheap and abundant. So we need a Manhattan project to harness solar energy, and figure out what to do with carbon dioxide other than release it into the atmosphere.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 6:15 PM, FOOLBEFREE wrote:

    The lesser of all evils is to lend them with conditions:

    1.Produce x number of cars and trucks running on natural gas by June 2009. (Force oil companies to distribute CNG).

    2. Produce a decreasing number of cars and trucks running on gasoline with higher fuel standards. Phase them out completely in 2015.

    3. Produce x number of cars and trucks running on other types of energy such as batteries and hydrogen starting in 2010.

    This will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and preserve these vital industries. We cannot continue borrowing $700 billion to buy oil. With so much debt, the US may go bankrupt in 2015 or the US Dollar will be worth very little in 2015 or sooner.

    Time to act and have a strategic energy policy and an auto industrial policy !

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 6:27 PM, canlinda wrote:

    There are already too many people unemployed in the U.S.

    I am worried about the consequences of the automobile industry shutting down?

    Have you really thought about the affect on the economy within one week of the big three shutting down?

    Think it through carefully. Look at the big picture.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 6:29 PM, elicek wrote:

    US auto companies have had years to compete in the market and offer fuel efficient cars. They have refused to build anything other than huge gas guzzlers, somehow taking pride in the American "big car mentality."

    I know there will be thousands of jobs lost if the carmakers fail but they have done this to themselves. If someone had asked me, I would have said, years ago, make more fuel efficient cars. The writing has been on the wall since the 1973 oil embargo. We have had over 35 years to get it together but in all this time, these powerful companies chose not to go down the road of energy efficiency. They don't deserve a bailout. The power people that run these companies have made wrong decisions that have made their companies fail. But don't forget they have made billions riding this wave of excess. Turns out that the power players in this industry were incredibly short-sighted or maybe just greedy.

    If GM, Ford and Chrysler had been building fuel efficient cars for even the last five years, they would be in fine shape. They chose not to.

    The bailouts have to stop at some point. And these car companies are very sick. They may not recover even with big money thrown their way.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 6:36 PM, sleve22 wrote:

    Coordinating any type of bailout with a highly refined national energy standard for automobiles COULD be a significant lynchpin to a prolonged recovery for the automobile and energy industries as well as the national economy. A series of videos are available on YouTube by Anne Korin ,who is a co-director of a "Global Strategic Institute" ( I may have this slightly wrong ). These videos present just one workable hypothesis that dovetail nicely with the comments posted by FOOLBEFREE.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 10:38 PM, curbguy wrote:

    Let the automakers fight it out amongst themselves. They have had how many years to fix their problems and still couldn't figure it out, meanwhile Toyota kicked their butts. How is a bailout going to fix GM? Their problem is structural and all the money the Feds can print isn't going to fix anything, it will only prolong the inevitable.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2008, at 11:34 PM, pizzamakinfool wrote:

    I am tired of these bailouts. The government must stop offering it's teat and wean itself of these companies because they will only suck the nation's treasury dry. Our economic system relies on winners and losers. The winning companies have smart, strong management offering a product that people want or businesses need. The losing companies may have once been winners but have grown fat and lazy. Their employees have become accustomed to outrageous perks and wages. The auto makers, and their employees and the labor unions, have only themselves to blame for the mess they are in. Let them take their lumps. Bailing out lending institutions for making and investing in bad loans is bad enough. We are rewarding their bad behavior by giving them our tax money to stave off bankruptcy but who is Washington really bailing out? The fat cat contributors to elections thats who is getting our tax dollars. The Fed doesn't give a rat's ass about the common man. They have to protect their own. But I digress. Let Detroit take its lumps. We'll be better off because out of the ashes will rise stronger companies. There will always be someone looking for a place to park some major money that will help kick start a car company. Hell, maybe the great Warren Buffet will see such a deal and charge in and turn the next car commercial into, "15 minutes could save you 15% on your new car purchase."

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 4:42 AM, Brettze wrote:


    You are now trying to bail Japan out again by letting GM and Ford down the tubes so we carbuyers will have nowhere to go but to buy more Japan cars and help Japan pay off the loans .

    If you werre right that Japan should have let own companies go down, GM and Ford would have won a market share in Japan long ago because GM and Ford were in better shape back then.

    Plus, you neglect to mention that Japan had been buying dollars to keep yens weak so to kee Civics and Corollas affordable to American carbuyers... Japan is actually bailing out American carbuyers who chose Civics and Corllas...

    So if GM and Ford goes down the tubes, our dollar will devalue as Japan will have won the car market in America and see less reason to keep propping up dollars...

    Americans will be floored by the new sticker shocks on Civic windows with MSRP of $50,000 and up....

    Almighty dollar, indeed!

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 4:51 AM, Brettze wrote:

    There will be deifinitely unintended consquences after letting GM and Ford down the tubes.. I guarantee it...

    it is better to play it safe by lending more billiosn to GM and Ford that is still doing over $300 billion worth of manufacturing.. it is a smart insurance policy...

    GM and Ford had done substantial restructuring works for past several years and oil prices is falling toward a unkown point where confidence will be restored.$60 is still too high for someone to take out a car loan with a fear of seeing oil prices returning to old highs of $145.. Millions are waiting to make sure that oil prices remain stuck in the low prices for a few months or a year before they will dip toes in the water again.

    Big Oil is to be blamed for GM and Ford's demise. As you should know by now that Toyota and Honda is losing sales as well.. it is the oil price that is the big question mark!

    Americans realize now after repeated oil price shocks over past several decades that we must start watching oil prices everyday and oil inventories every week... We will drive according to the inventory levels... We will be hawkish toward Big Oil never trusting Big Oiil ever again....

    Everything will be fine once again.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 10:16 AM, kyddfool wrote:

    You know it's very simple and even a simpleton could understand -

    if their vision is broad enough; that is, further than the end of their own nose.

    If i start a business and it fails, then i suck it up and have to do what i have to do. Big business is no different and Bill Mann is right, these car companies ( FOR YEARS ) have been failing. They never got it, even when the foreign companies were running all over them 10/15 years ago.

    WHY on earth should we now give them even more money to truly is studipidy at it's best and this country

    HAS TO CHANGE - who is strong enough to do the right thing????

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 11:18 AM, PrestonCheek wrote:

    I have to say great comments by all of you Fools, and I'm glad to be apart of the community.

    I work in the highly competetive petro/chemical industry in South Lousianna where when you don't cut it they find another company that can. When Toyota came in the picture they had fresh ideas and more discipline than our auto making companies, meaning they are not yet burdened by the health benifits and pension plans that we as taxpayers might soon be facing with bailing out The Big Three.

    I believe competition and failure are necessary for future success in anything we do as people and country. I have to agree with letting them fail and re-organize on their own, don't get me wrong I have the utmost sympathy for all involved, but remember businesses no matter how big or small have one goal in mind, to make money, the by-product is the jobs its creates as it developes. When you get greedy unions involved that make labor to costly for the product they are selling, you don't need a degree to figure out whats going to happen. (in theory) if 5 million people bought new cars tomorrow would it fix the problem?

    Change, as much as it hurts all involved is tough and one doesn't appreciate it until it happens to them, I guess all we can do is sit back and see what happens.

    Again I enjoy reading all the comments and good luck to all.


  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 12:25 PM, Slipswitch wrote:

    Other than structural differences between the Japanese and US economies, a factor is demographics. Japan has negative population growth and zero immigration. US has a growing population with steady immigration, making US more dynamic long term.

    In the 90's people wrote off US and predicted Japan would dominate the world. Now they are saying the same about China.

    Maybe if we give the car makers the right tools and environment (not money) they will come back like the railroads did.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 12:40 PM, JaymayLA wrote:

    Eight years ago, many people in the military business complained that the army had been "gutted" during the Clinton years, and that our military hegemony had collapsed. The Bush administration spent eight years prosecuting needless wars and pouring trillions of taxpayer dollars into no-bid, cost plus contracts with the likes of Halliburton and Boeing.

    Today, the military budget is $711 Billion a year, or 48% of all worldwide military spending. We spend 24 times as much per captia on our military as China does.

    The military is to the Republican party what the UAW is to the Democratic Party. At least if we pour money into the auto industry we'll get some cars out of the deal and the benefits of the jobs will be felt here in the United States.

    It's funny how our country will blindly support spending trillions to fight some imagined network of boogeymen, but when it comes to investing in our own industries and our own people we say it's a lost cause.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 1:27 PM, PrestonCheek wrote:

    JaymayLA wrote:

    It's funny how our country will blindly support spending trillions to fight some imagined network of boogeymen, but when it comes to investing in our own industries and our own people we say it's a lost cause.

    I agree with you, it's easy to find unjustified spending by our government that can find a way to disgust even the most affected people of the day. However, would you not agree that the managers at The Big Three deep down inside no what needs to be done to fix their problem, and with the goverment giving handouts are taking the easy way out.

    When will it all stop, I think the object of the article was to point out that money alone will not fix the problem and re-organization will only happen when they hit rock bottom. I am very happy to drive my GMC 3/4 ton pickup, so don't think I don't care about american values, but I do not think the government should offer money or guidance to managers that know what to do when a business has failed.

    I do however support our military, that has our young people risking their lives so I can sit in my comfortable chair and write my poorly punctuated articles, maybe not the wars but the men and women that serve.


  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 2:03 PM, StarbellySneech wrote:

    All the doom and gloom over the need to save the big 3 is misplaced. If you care about the employees, you still need to let the businesses fail, not prolong the agony. The employees can then move on to other employment. Maybe not the cushiest or highest paying, but certainly in line with their value as an employee in the area they chose to live and work.

    I think a lot of people are not understanding the nature of what happens when a company fails. In most cases there is still a demand for at least some of the company services and another company fills the need. Almost always this involves buying some of the assets and hiring some of the employees of the failed company.

    If the big 3 are not bailed out, some of the assets and employees will still be employed in one form or another. It is not the "end" of every employee, supplier and trickle down recipient. But if they are bailed out it is most likely that the money spent will be destroyed. And it will be a net loss to we the taxpayers.

    So we are being forced to each donate an organ to prolong the life of this terminally ill patient. Which act makes us sick and the ugly cycle continues spiraling downward until we hit bottom. Where that bottom is, I don't know.


  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 2:41 PM, TMFFischer wrote:

    Not to sound alarmist, but logic follows that if you bail out the airlines (a few years ago), bail out the investment bankers, bail out the mortgage giants, bail out the banks, bail out the insurance providers, bail out consumer debt operators (next in line, within the banks), bail out the auto makers... well, you know what, you're trying to bail out a big chunk of the entire economy/GDP (technology and energy aside -- but don't get us started on energy). And if some of these bail outs fail (which is more than likely), eventually you could need to bail out the government who has taken on all this risk in one form or another; and there's no one around to bail them out (tax receipts won't do it in a shrinking economy). Many a government has been felled by less. Ultimately, we have to let some things perish so that overall we can regroup and start to go forward again. New opportunities will be found if old (failing) ones are allowed to end. You have to let some of this failure work itself out. Since when did failure become so unacceptable? Japan shows us the alternative (endless aid) may not be any better. And what we're doing now isn't capitalism. So what is it?

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 3:54 PM, ARJTurgot wrote:

    Either way you are going to end up with a government subsidy. GM especially has financed its pension obligation with current income cash flows. No annuity fund, no set-asides, just flat out cash transfers. So now the choice will be made to either perpetuate this fraud with a bailout, or let them fail and have the pensioners start getting their checks from Pension Guarantee Corp. Since Pension Guarantee doesn't have the assets to handle something as big as a GM failure it will turn to the Feds.

    Pay now or pay later.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 4:54 PM, banker7 wrote:

    The article probably is spot on, but it is certainly disheartening to read from Michigan. Our state had been in recession for four years -- with declining home values and high unemployment -- before property started to decline on the coasts and the rest of the nation took notice. Now Michigan, and the rest of the flyover states, have watched the government bail out investment banks and insurance companies, as well as provide funds for bank consolidations and corporate junkets. But as soon we start talking about funds for manufacturers, albeit inefficient ones crippled by unions, we begin debating the long-term philosophical ramifications of propping up industry. Is this, then, government of the bankers, by the bankers and for the bankers?

    Full disclosure: I am a banker.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 5:09 PM, damasterwc wrote:

    I disagree... 1 in 10 jobs revolves in some way around the auto industry. Rather than jump in with these loans, and rather than having spent $3 trillion so far on the derivatives bailout, I propose we build a national, then international network of maglev trains. We could live in New York, and commute to work in London in 1hr with vacuum tube maglev trains that run 4000 mph. Unfortunately building these with private money will be impossible, because of the sheer costs involved. But since we have let $3 trillion disappear god knows where already and we're still fine, we should spend $3 trillion to build a worldwide network of these things.That's how we got out of the last depression, thanks to FDR. We should build infrastructure and never stop. Use ultra low interest government created credit, not money as debt created by banks.

    Imagine how we'd be saved if we had this kind of building program going... it certainly would save Detroit (yes, they can make maglev train parts too).

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 5:12 PM, damasterwc wrote:

    FYI guys, we need to change the system... the world can no longer support a monetary system based on endless fictional expansion. We have lower production and increased money, increased "wealth" WTF is going on? It's hyperinflationary and not going to end well. We need to increase our production AND increase our credit... we need to have a system of fixed exchange rates and government created credit... and end the derivatives market once and for all before it consumes us all.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 5:51 PM, javnnf wrote:

    Lots of people have provided very good and insightful discussion.

    Yes it is a very difficult decision to make, and I hope politics is kept out of this.

    I did not see one point of bailout for the financial institutions and banks. What the guarantee that the companies like AIG will provide expected return for their bailout money, and they WILL eventually succeed. All the data that I have got suggests that helping companies like AIG is no less a gamble than the auto industries.

    In the auto-industries at least there is more visibility. What is the visibility anyone have about these financial institutions? So far everybody (Government and layman alike) seems to be very disappointed how these banks have used the given $300 billion so far.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2008, at 8:27 PM, sevenofseven wrote:

    It looks like most of the comments do not favor a bailout, or bailouts in general. How many of those who don't favor a bailout voted to put the Democrats into power, or any of those incumbents? Secondly, Detroit does produce fuel efficient cars. Do a little research. The problem is that the average hourly pay with benefits for UAW workers is +/- $75.00 per hour, compared to mid forties for Toyota, and the huge legacy costs which management agreed to years ago. The only way GM can make money is with big vehicles because they have a large profit margin. Small cars have a much smaller profit margin. Finally, do you think GM would make SUV's if nobody was buying them? I'm from MIchigan. I hate people dissing GM & Ford especially about "Detroit makes the wrong cars ..." The UAW has had a very good run and members have made excellent money (over 100K with overtime) for many years. All things come to an end. Management sucked. As much as it will hurt, Let them fail, get it over with.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 1:13 AM, daftstockpicker wrote:

    Why bailout one set of companies but not the big three car makers. Why did we bailout AIG? Why was capital infused into the five biggest banks? Yeah, yeah the argument has been made ad nauseum that if the big banks were allowed to fail the whole financial system would collapse. I just do not see it.

    Bail out ALL big companies that are to big to fail or bail out NONE. To me it seems we are favoring one set over the other.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 2:05 PM, maybe4less wrote:

    Well said Bill! Everyone should forward this article to their Senators and Congresspeople.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 3:49 PM, crazycarguy wrote:

    Nice article but there are a couple of common oversimplifications here:

    1) Detroit doesn't make cars people want to buy -- the US auto companies made multi-billion dollar profits through most of the 90's and their SUVs and Trucks were exceptionally popular with consumers. The Taurus beat all other cars for years as a top seller. I think it is a waaay oversimplification to just draw a straight line from the 70's to now and say that they can't build a good car.

    2) Detroit has done nothing to address their competitive issues -- look at the employment numbers, Detroit has been aggressively cutting capacity in the US by eliminating workers, closing plants, and spinning off parts divisions. They also made a new agreement with the UAW that will significantly reduce hourly wages and benefits and relieve the automakers of some very large retiree liabilities. Even without bankruptcy, these companies are already half the size (or smaller) than they were eight years ago.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 4:25 PM, TMFOtter wrote:

    Dear Crazycarguy-

    Thanks for the good word. Please note that I did not say "doesn't make cars people want to buy." What I did say was that Detroit doesn't sell cars that people want to buy at a price that allows the company to make a profit. There's an ocean of difference between the two. And the problem with these companies shrinking is that their liabilities under their existing defined benefit plans don't shrink along with them...and that's a problem that impacts their ability to ever be competitive.


    Bill Mann

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 5:16 PM, WilyInvestor wrote:

    I find it humorous that the Fool speaking wisely on why you don't bail out companies, but were so unwilling to say so with the bank bailout plan, which by the way, the money isn't being used as advertised (big surprise eh?) :)

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 9:46 PM, none0such wrote:

    The whole point to making an SUV or selling a truck to someone who uses it to carry groceries in (read "cheap to make; profitable to sell vehicles consumers are interested in buying") was to exploit the loop-hole in the vintage 1980's legislation mandating fuel efficient cars. Since this was known for decades and auto industry lobbyists fought tooth and nail to prevent its elimination (read "don't kill the only thing that is making money for us"), the US auto industry brought this upon themselves: they chose to fail. Can't I chose too? If I worked for the auto industry, couldn't I make a choice not to work in that industry? (read "decades of time to invest in re-training, higher education, other employment than supporting poor management decisions with my loyalty as an employee"). In other words, as an investor, if I see the US auto industry's prospects are not good over the long term (but look good short term), I can choose to not expose myself to these companies. Shouldn't we make similar decisions about our employment?

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 10:20 PM, none0such wrote:


    Well, during WWII, Detroit turned out war planes so I'm sure they could be retrofitted to make white elephants. Maybe while were at it we could get the athletic footware industry to make the band uniforms to go with the maglevs.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 1:38 AM, ibarz wrote:

    I have nothing against letting GM, Ford, Chrysler, or all three stooges fails. BUT, in the name of fairness, why are we bailing out banks, insurance companies, etc. I'm against bailouts, but you can't say one industry should be helped and the others not. I'm not connected to the auto industry and I think US made cars are crap, but we do have thousands and thousands of Americans working in the auto industry and I feel its the gov'ts obligation to help them out. I still hold on to a sliver of hope that one day, I'll get myself to buy one of their cars.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 2:10 PM, freddyv3 wrote:

    One point: Japan may have a down market 20 years later but they have not gone through a despression...good for them; they kept people working and the speculators paid the price.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 2:28 PM, ShellsFolly wrote:

    HERE HERE!! Great article! Very well stated and I couldn't agree more. Money, like water, and life, will always find the best way eventually. By propping up these dinosaurs we are only diverting the water for a while. Eventually it will overtop the dam and rush to the lowest point. You can't stop money flowing to its best use any more than you can stop water from seeking its lowest point. It will happen eventually.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 3:12 PM, arthurj724 wrote:

    The US auto makers will not be allowed to fail. They will be saved for one reason, union workers. The Democrats rely on them and if the Democrat controlled congress does not save all those overpaid and overcompensated jobs stanby for stink that will cause.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 4:20 PM, dplamont wrote:

    My grandfather, a Pennsylvania farmer, had a good saying back in the Great Depression that might apply here: There are two things that will ruin this country--unions and welfare.

    I think he had it almost right, and I would subsitiute "entitlement mentality." Our leaders, economic, financial, political, all seem to subscribe to there being a free lunch out there. Out there in time, so far out it is beyond the horizon they see. Problem is they are all wearing defective glasses, or are blind to economic reality.

    Man feels he has to save the whales and owls, now the banks and cars follow. Come on now, all you evolutionary fools, practice what you preach biologically in the area of econmics: survival ofthe fittest makes all remaining species stronger. But, evolution is a fraud also, so following economic bailouts simply confirms the lie thatman has told himself since the Garden of Eden.

    Power, greed, sloth, lies, all fall into the same bucket of slop. Thank God my trust is not in this world or its ways.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 4:27 PM, FourTops1234 wrote:

    GM could disappear in less than a year. They could hire Stan O'Neal back. He made Merrill disappear in months!

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 6:12 PM, edteked wrote:

    So, basically what you are saying is that it's perfectly acceptable to pay wallstreet hundreds of billions of dollars so that they can take that money and distribute it as bonus payouts to the CEOs and retreats at fancy resorts. I doubt that *ANY* of those fat-cats in Wall Street even *drives* a car made in detroit. SO, it's perfectly fine to bolster the money-grubbing, greedy, sniveling litttle weasels that caused this whole mess to begin with,

    BUT! It's not OK to support the working class of people who have given their lives for generations to produce for this country and the world. It's OK to let the hundreds of thousands of employees who are the salt of the earth for this United States to just toss them aside, to let them burn at the stake. People who barely make a decent living wage...Yeah, that's good for the economy...While we're at it, let's modify a Shakespearian phrase a little to fit this situation...The first thing we should do is Kill all Journalists...


    web/gadget guru

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 7:17 PM, MasterIoda wrote:

    As a foreigner I am observing America in disbelief... Is this 1929 all over again ? I refuse to believe that this great nation of yours doesn't have the resilience, resources or imagination to take on the challenges caused by this crisis and emerge not only victorious but stronger ! My mind cannot conceive that the civilization that liberated France and Western Europe during WW II, reversed the abominable debacle of Pearl Harbor, landed men on the moon and brought back Appollo 13 safe and sound won't be able to tackle the task ahead and emerge victorious again because, to me, that is the "American Way".

    If the US can't do it, then no one will.

    Perhaps now is not the time to look for who's to blame but to unite and tame the beast, as you have always done throughout history.

    I will never forget that the US liberated the country of my parents, France, in the 1940's at great expense (human sacrifice).

    For this reason, I am following Mr Buffet's advice and buying US stocks. I don't have much money but I'm doing my part, however small or insignificant it may appear, purchasing Berkshire-Hathaway claas B stock, one share at a time...

    Please excuse my English, it's not perfect, it isn't my mother tongue...

    Hang in there and bite the bullet...


  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 7:17 PM, madjax wrote:

    Agree, agree, agree. Why does anyone want to reward poor performance? If these companies are so vital, why can't the executive teams figure out a way to be innovative and profitable? They had their chance. I don't see their future being any different than their past.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 7:18 PM, MasterIoda wrote:

    As a foreigner I am observing America in disbelief... Is this 1929 all over again ? I refuse to believe that this great nation of yours doesn't have the resilience, resources or imagination to take on the challenges caused by this crisis and emerge not only victorious but stronger ! My mind cannot conceive that the civilization that liberated France and Western Europe during WW II, reversed the abominable debacle of Pearl Harbor, landed men on the moon and brought back Appollo 13 safe and sound won't be able to tackle the task ahead and emerge victorious again because, to me, that is the "American Way".

    If the US can't do it, then no one will.

    Perhaps now is not the time to look for who's to blame but to unite and tame the beast, as you have always done throughout history.

    I will never forget that the US liberated the country of my parents, France, in the 1940's at great expense (human sacrifice).

    For this reason, I am following Mr Buffet's advice and buying US stocks. I don't have much money but I'm doing my part, however small or insignificant it may appear, purchasing Berkshire-Hathaway claas B stock, one share at a time...

    Please excuse my English, it's not perfect, it isn't my mother tongue...

    Hang in there and bite the bullet...


  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 9:38 PM, warrenneill wrote:

    If the government can manage to get large concessions from the auto workers in exchange for providing some capital to keep the car companies going, then that would make this investment/bailout different than ones that came before.

    One of Bill's main arguments is that the big 3 "have above-market labor costs [and] they have shown minimal aptitude at developing automobiles that people want to buy at prices that allow the companies to turn a profit." Getting labor costs closer to the level of the rest of the market might actually enable the big 3 to produce cars that people want at prices that greatly undercut their competition yet still allow them to make a good profit. Even now, I can buy a Pontiac Vibe for much less than an identical Toyota Matrix. GM's profit on that Vibe must be minimal, but cut wages significantly and they would be making a good profit.

    It seems to me that to let the U.S. auto industry die now would be to give up at precisely the moment when they have finally almost gotten themselves to the point where they need to be. They are making a variety of good-quality cars and people are starting to realize that their quality level is not significantly different from the imports anymore. The only fly in the ointment is the ridiculously large wage and benefit packages of the union workers. I think the government has a golden opportunity to make those workers an offer they can't refuse (i.e. they have to agree to reduce their wage packages from an absurd level to merely generous). I just hope that democratic politics don't get in the way of brokering such an agreement.


  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 10:17 PM, Ryoga2k wrote:

    Well, at least Japanese people doesn't live in mobile homes or in the streets like many North American people is doing now, and as you said Japanese car manufacturers are doing so well that are ruining their North American counterparts, so I do see an advantage in the japanese plan, its not good for investors but it is for most of the people in the country.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 10:58 PM, smokaloca wrote:

    Thank you Jean-Pierre on behalf of America.

    I'm from Michigan. If you are not from here, or haven't lived here you do not understand.

    Yes, the "Big Three" big wigs and the UAW have created this problem. They have known it was coming for thirty years. Do not believe otherwise. Those of us who have attended business school were taught that it was coming(for thirty years).

    However, the small suppliers to the big three that were not UAW did not create the problem. The small shops that invented the parts that are used by the big three are the companies that are really being punished. Their employees don't have the fat pensions. A lot of non-union people have been punished due to the big three and UAW mismanagement.

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2008, at 2:46 PM, janelle1234 wrote:

    Maybe we should strike a deal with Japan. Their top engineers could come consult our US automakers, use the new loans to turn the companies around on a new energy and fuel efficient plan. I'm not sure what we would offer in return. Maybe cheap real estate? ;-)

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2008, at 10:10 PM, Foobot wrote:

    November 14, 2008, at 2:10 PM, freddyv3,

    Japan does have a rising population of day-to-day part-time workers that live in net cafes, which are essentially operated as flop-houses. This is not a large segment of the workforce yet, but it is recognized as a serious social problem, and it will get worse before it gets better.

    Re the main post, though ... depression in the managerial layer of the workforce is also rising in Japan, among those broken when attempting to cope with overtime burdens that leave too little time for sleep. Japanese courts have fairly recently approved recovery for death from overwork. Policy in Japan (like, um, the US) is far from perfect; but I would propose to meet the main poster's anecdote, and raise by one. Specifically what measures is the Japanese government currently taking to prop up specific companies or sectors?

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2008, at 10:14 PM, Foobot wrote:

    (Oops. The first para above should have been addressed to: November 14, 2008, at 10:17 PM, Ryoga2k)

  • Report this Comment On November 16, 2008, at 1:33 AM, effinayright wrote:

    I made my living in the 1980's and 90's by working for technology firms doing business in Japan, having lived there, learning the language, and working for Japanese companies.

    I want to second the author's sentiments as to what went wrong there, and how we must not repeat Japan's errors.

    Those who point to CEO pay and "lavish resorts" entirely miss the point: the wage, benefit and pension structures of the Big Three, especially GM, are entirely out-of-whack.

    A CEO getting $14 million is NOTHING compared to BILLIONS annually spent on union perks. Fully burdened, a GM worker costs $76+/hour, vs. $48/hour at Toyota and Honda's US operations. How can any company survive, except via subsidies taken from other taxpayers, with that kind of competitive disadvantage?

    The European units of the Big Three make money--- which shows that even in union-dominated countries, there **are** viable business plans. (but beware of government subsidies --- a look at European airlines tells a sorry tale).

    So throwing more money at existing companies is not the answer.

    Some here wring their hands about millions of unemployed if the Big Three are forced into Bankruptcy. Did that happen with US airlines after 9/11, when some like Delta were in Chapter 11?? NO, it did not. True, some carriers went out of business, but many of their routes, equipment and employees were picked up by sucessors. Was there pain? You bet. But aside from union flacks, who says prosperity and success are guaranteed?

    Someone tell me why a "job bank" that pays you as if you were employed makes any economic sense?

    Will someone else tell me how unions are anything but a retarding force in American economic life?

    And oh yes: Delta is now positioned to become the world's largest airline. And oh by the way: it never has been unionized, thank God.

  • Report this Comment On November 16, 2008, at 10:17 PM, IB1FOOL2 wrote:


















  • Report this Comment On November 18, 2008, at 1:55 AM, shmohog wrote:

    I googled a lot of different phrases to find the real wages that most UAW workers are making, and it is no where near the $75 .00 per hour that people are claiming. The average wage for production workers is about $27 an hour which works out to be about $54,000 a year, based on a 2,000-hour work year. That’s probable not including benefits. Here is just one web site to check out for yourself. It's a 2007 story but I doubt if wages have changed much. It’s always good to do little googling before you start yodeling.

  • Report this Comment On November 18, 2008, at 9:25 PM, MnyMagnet wrote:

    If you don't think this will affect you....

    ~ 250,000 Jobs @ the big 3

    + > 1M retirees whose pensions will be turned over to the PBGC and health care will be picked up by the govt.

    + tens of thousands of jobs at auto suppliers (Delphi, Lear, etc)

    + tens of thousands of dealer jobs (in every state)

    + tens of thousands of jobs at other suppliers (Accenture, Deloitte, HP, IBM, Law firms, etc)

    + thousands of jobs in advertising (Big 3 are the biggest spenders on that)

    + jobs in entertainment due to reduced sponsorship

    + jobs in NASCAR due to reduced sponsorship




    And another thought... If we lose our country's manufacturing base, we will just be pushing money around. We can't export pedicures.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2008, at 10:45 AM, sleepinginny wrote:

    Does the fact that in the past decade the greater exporter to the US(and most places in Asia) has changed from Japan to China and true innovation has been escaping Japan for decades both of which accompanied to the stagnant growth for Japan.....

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2008, at 10:59 AM, biotechnique wrote:

    I would agree with Bill Mann's blog, BUT he is part of that archaic Wall Street Banking industry...that will be bailed out for a tune of over 1 Trillion Dollars of our tax dollars!!! Is Bill's Blog Biased???....Definitely YES!

    But yet, a measely 25 Billion Dollar loan to our nations Auto Infrastructure is considered excessive...It appears this is a ploy to detract attention away from Wall Street and DC where the problem really exists! If we are going to learn from Japan's past failure, Bill should have concentrated on his own industry, not one he is clueless about.

    The 25 Billion is going to look like a drop in a bucket when compared to the potential job loss of 5 million in the next few years from the Auto Industry collapse

    If the Auto Industry isn't too big fail...then neither is Wall Street....Just let Banking, Housing, and Auto fail, reprice, reorganize...and get on with it....

    ...By the way Bill Wall Street collapsed Decades ago with advent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...someone in Wall Street bundled and sold those Trillions of Dollars of useless mortgages...You are the Dinosaur Bill...

  • Report this Comment On December 05, 2008, at 1:09 AM, luckyIguess wrote:

    Although I agree with the thrust of Mr. Mann's article, I object to his sympathy for the auto workers.

    I grew up in Michigan in a GM town. Throughout my childhood UAW workers enjoyed better pay, benefits and hours than everybody else and for that they produced sub-standard products. I remember one auto-worker admonishing the owner of a Datsun pick up shortly before bragging about how he (auto-worker) was punched-in at work while enjoying the afternoon at a public sporting event.

    It's the UAW'S sense of entitlement, laziness and seperation from reality that has caused this situation. Time and again unions demanded, and were given compensation grossly superior to every other American. Their own greed has led to their downfall!

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2008, at 11:00 PM, rip324 wrote:

    Well from what I see we have lost one industry after another and will continue to do so until people learn to connect the dots. One only need to look at our trade deficits to see it. I believe that by not having a coherent trade and industrial policy it forced our government to allow a environment that helped to create the bubble economy. They allowed this in order to prop up our false paper economy and avoid the social unrest from the loss of jobs. A nations true wealth is based on its ability to produce real products. So until all these thinking heads get back to basics and figure that out we will continue to fade away as the worlds super power with our standard of living in tow. We need a strong coherent trade and industrial policy in the U.S.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2008, at 10:56 AM, rip324 wrote:

    For thoses talking about wages of those union workers you really need to get up to speed. That seems to be the problem with most Americans when it comes to cars. They live in the past, or don't know what is going on. The union agreed to take 50% PAY CUTS in their contract last fall and also GAVE UP their pensions for any new hires. They also made some more concessions on their existing health care programs. So for those of you bashing unuions you don't know what you are talking about. They have gave huge sacrifices to help the companies. I suppose some here feel the workers should just work for free and you still wouldn't be happy.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2008, at 12:36 PM, rip324 wrote:

    "A CEO getting $14 million is NOTHING compared to BILLIONS annually spent on union perks. Fully burdened, a GM worker costs $76+/hour, vs. $48/hour at Toyota and Honda's US operations. How can any company survive, except via subsidies taken from other taxpayers, with that kind of competitive disadvantage?"

    Did you know that when they calculate these figures they include all the retired peoples pensions and health care to come up with that $76 a hr. figure. What are pensions in Japan? Does their government pay the pensions and health care burden? So lets get our facts straight here.

  • Report this Comment On December 17, 2008, at 2:58 PM, tophatal wrote:

    The US tends to look on the rest of the world as being backwards and lacking innovation. And if anything we're now seeing that's most certainly not the case. As to the dire financial circumstances the country finds itself in. Let's just say that much of it was of its own making from start to finish.

    And for those who chose to not look inwardly at the problem and lay the blame elsewhere that just goes to show how naive they really are .

    tophatal ..................

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2009, at 1:16 AM, SebastianDD wrote:

    Payday loan is not a shortage in Japan but I feel the biggest home-grown problem that will have a major effect on the Japan of the future is the combination of the ageing population and the drop in the birth rate, as some time soon Japan will seriously have to consider how they approach the lack of workers and the explosion in elderly people looking for government care, but there's a potentially dangerous shortage of something else: children. The birthrates across the world's richer nations are falling, and Japan's is headed for disaster according to some, as the rate of births per couple has fallen below the break-even point, and it will start causing damage, just like an expense can cause damage unless treated with a payday loan. Some companies have even taken to letting employees off early a day or two a week to create future employees. Experts say they have to fix it quickly, like a faxless payday loan can fix your budget quickly. Read more about <a title=" READ Procreate, Nippon! From Your Payday Loan Source" rev="vote-for" href=" loans</a> money blog at Personal Money Store.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2009, at 10:10 AM, bedfordfool wrote:

    Excellent. I was disappointed to hear Pres. Obama invoke Japan's lost decade as a reason for government action. Japan failed, and continues to fail BECAUSE of government action.

    Welcome to America's lost decade. The Obama Era.

  • Report this Comment On March 11, 2009, at 4:50 PM, helend22 wrote:

    The Japanese circumstances are compared with accounts of similar cases of unfulfilled prophecies in the United States which are reported to have led to greater faith among the prophets' followers, a reaction that has been interpreted on the basis of a theory of cognitive dissonance. Similarities and differences in the Japanese and U.S. cases are noted and suggestions are made for adapting the original formulation of interpretive theory for application to non-U.S. cases and general cross-cultural use.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2009, at 5:16 PM, endtiredness wrote:

    "A CEO getting $14 million is NOTHING compared to BILLIONS annually spent on union perks. Fully burdened, a GM worker costs $76+/hour, vs. $48/hour at Toyota and Honda's US operations. How can any company survive, except via subsidies taken from other taxpayers, with that kind of competitive disadvantage?"

    This is the real problem and I'm tired of it causing damage to our businesses and economy. American companies have no chance if this is the way it's going to be. We help the world raise it's economy, but hurt ours. Is it worth it?

    I'm tired of it.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2010, at 3:19 PM, TedBellis wrote:

    With a view to the implications of MA systems and the measurement of the performance of critical success factors in financial industries, this paper studies the role of MA in NFP in Japanese financial institutions.

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