Commentary

GM and Chrysler Bailouts Unnecessary and Expensive

University of Pennsylvania law professor David Skeel has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal (June 5, 2011) challenging the notion that the GM and Chrysler bailouts are a “success” story. The bailouts will inevitably be an issue during next year’s presidential election, with President Obama making the case the bailouts were not only successful but at good financial deal for the American taxpayer. Skeel points out that, in fact, taxpayers will end up subsidizing these two companies (to the tune of $14 billion) and that the government rigged their restructuring in ways that consciously ensured Big Labor’s “pain” would be minimized while maximizing the pain felt by bond holders and shareholders.

More importantly, I think, Skeel points out that the bailouts didn’t have to happen at all; both companies could have gone through the traditional bankruptcy process. GM probably would have survived although Chrysler likely would have seen its divisons (e.g., the profitabl jeep division) sold off. Writes Steel:

“If the government wanted to “sell” the companies in bankruptcy, it should have held real auctions and invited anyone to bid. But the government decided that there was no need to let pesky rule-of-law considerations interfere with its plan to help out the unions and other favored creditors. Victims of defective GM and Chrysler cars waiting to be paid damages weren’t so fortunate—they’ll end up getting nothing or next to nothing.

“Nor would both companies simply have collapsed if the government hadn’t orchestrated the two transactions. General Motors was a perfectly viable company that could have been restructured under the ordinary reorganization process. The only serious question was GM’s ability to obtain financing for its bankruptcy, given the credit market conditions in 2008. But even if financing were not available—and there’s a very good chance it would have been—the government could have provided funds without also usurping the bankruptcy process.

“Although Chrysler wasn’t nearly so healthy, its best divisions—Jeep in particular—would have survived in a normal bankruptcy, either through restructuring or through a sale to a more viable company. This is very similar to what the government bailout did, given that Chrysler is essentially being turned over to Fiat.”

The bailouts were really politically motivated initiatives that ended up serving the political ends of the Obama Administration (although it’s unclear whether the Bush Administration would have resisted the same temptations to step in).

Reason Foundation’s Shikha Dalmia has also weighed in on this issue, detailing the ways the government forced bankruptcies created a paper success and showing how the benefits of the federal government’s intervention were illusory at best (and politically manipulative at worst).

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.

Staley is the author of several books, most recently co-authoring Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry aid Staley and Moore "get it right" and world bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

He is also co-author, with Ted Balaker, of The Road More Traveled: Why The Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It (Rowman and Littlefield, September, 2006). Author Joel Kotkin said, "The Road More Traveled should be required reading not only for planners and their students, but anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive as real places, not merely as museums, in the 21st Century." Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion."

Staley's previous book, Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), was called the "most thorough challenge yet to regional land-use plans" by Planning magazine.

In addition to these books, he is the author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, 1992) and Planning Rules and Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994).

His more than 100 professional articles, studies, and reports have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Investor's Business Daily, Journal of the American Planning Association, Planning magazine, Reason magazine, National Review and many others.

Staley's approach to urban development, transportation and public policy blends more than 20 years of experience as an economic development consultant, academic researcher, urban policy analyst, and community leader.

Staley is a former chair for his local planning board in his hometown of Bellbrook, Ohio. He is also a former member of its Board of Zoning Appeals and Property Review Commission, vice chair of his local park district's open space master plan committee, and chair of its Charter Review Commission.

Staley received his B.A. in Economics and Public Policy from Colby College, M.S. in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University, and Ph.D. in Public Administration, with concentrations in urban planning and public finance from Ohio State University.