Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Dad and Tom Friedman on GM: No Bailout

It's not often that my Dad and Tom Friedman focus on the same topics, but it happened this weekend. While riding to the Oconee County Landfill to haul off some brush (it's time to prune for all you gardeners out there!), Dad and I talked about the waste of trying to bailout American automakers, who have been making worse products that the competition for the better part of 30 years.

Friedman tackled the same issue and cuts to the core in his latest column.
Reading the news that General Motors and Chrysler are now lining up for another $20 billion or so in government aid — on top of the billions they’ve already received or requested — leaves me with the sick feeling that we are subsidizing the losers and for only one reason: because they claim that their funerals would cost more than keeping them on life support. Sorry, friends, but this is not the American way. Bailing out the losers is not how we got rich as a country, and it is not how we’ll get out of this crisis.
Friedman continues on to characterize GM as a wealth destruction machine, and proposes that instead of giving another $20 billion to automakers, that we invest it in companies that might actually help prepare our nation for the future. He's absolutely right, you know. Not only would the returns would be much higher, but the cathartic process for America's automakers could move ahead, and this is a positive.

Friedman's column also made me think about our state's investments in science and technology. Some of the programs we run in Georgia are easy targets for axe wielding budget writers, particularly those programs not easily understood by legislators or with long pay-off horizons. They shouldn't be.

In conversations with State Rep. Bob Smith (R - Watkinsville), he expressed that he has plans to staunchly defend any Georgia investments in research and technology. Since he is the chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations in the House, this carries some weight. I absolutely applaud him for that.

As I told him, I think investments in higher education at all levels are critical in Georgia, and should be prioritized over most other needs in state government. We are working to fix our secondary education schools, we cannot risk damaging our higher education system through silly cuts to core programs or failing to invest in our most promising areas of research and technology.

While locally, our investments focus on agriculture, biotechnology, infectious diseases and various related disciplines, Friedman makes a strong case for investments in alternative energy, where apparently the financing has locked up along with the financial markets.
That is how taxpayer money should be used to stimulate: limited financing, for a limited time, targeted on an industry bristling with new technology start-ups that, with a little push from Uncle Sam, won’t just survive this crisis but help us thrive when it is over. We need, and the world needs, an America that is thriving not just surviving.
Wherever our dollars go, they need to go somewhere that has strong potential for moving our country forward, not keeping us tied to the hidebound, oil dependent ways of the past. Given our research expertise in Athens and statewide, Georgia can make a similar contribution by continuing to improve agricultural production and discovering new ways to fight disease and improve the lives of the world's citizens.

P.S. For all the readers who were no doubt wondering, Dad and I had a successful trip to the Oconee Landfill, where he seems to be on a first name basis with the guy who manages the scales. For a mere $5, our overstuffed family pick-up full of Crepe Myrtle and Water Oak branches was deposited and will be either buried and recycled or mulched and given away. The OC landfill is best deal in town, unless you live in the city. If you live in the city, the minimal taxes you pay to cover your trash pick up, safety, and curbside leaf and limb pick-up are the best deal in town.

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