Does anyone still remember Roger and Me? Michael Moore's 1989 film chronicled the filmmaker's attempts to interview GM chairman Roger Smith, whose efforts to streamline and downsize had shattered GM's hometown of Flint, Mich. Back then, shutting down plants, cutting benefits, and throwing workers on the proverbial street was depicted as the epitome of corporate heartlessness and greed.
Now it is the policy of the Obama administration. Twenty years after Roger and Me, we are all heartless capitalists. We want efficiency, viability, and fast results, and we're not going to fritter away tens of billions of taxpayers dollars waiting for them. We've agreed that keeping dying companies on life support isn't the solution. But when it comes to coming up with a plan for what happens next to the workers displaced in the process, we are every bit as lacking in ideas as Roger Smith ever was.
General Motors is in as bad a position as you can imagine. You've read about GM's enormous losses—last year, they came out to about $14,560 for every single employee. The further you drill down into General Motors, the worse it looks. Numbers make the point more efficiently than words. Since last year, GM's U.S. sales are down an amazing 55 percent. Its production is down 61 percent. Its production of passenger cars is down 71 percent. (You won't find that number in GM's monthly sales figures, you need to do some math to get to that level of dreariness.) Even if GM made no more vehicles, the ones standing on dealers' lots right now would cover all of GM's sales for 161 days.