President Barack Obama has always been a man of lofty ideas and goals, and most of the country sees this as a good quality in a president. But there are negative consequences of having an idealist in office, one of which became quite apparent during the slow decline of the auto industry. The recent bankruptcy of General Motors combined with the tougher nationwide fuel standards passed by the Obama administration on May 19 prove the problematic nature of government intervention in the auto industry.
The new standards propose a 35.5 miles per gallon average fuel economy for cars by 2016. There are both environmental and foreign policy reasons for the change. The environmental implications are obvious — new cars use less fuel and thus release fewer gasses into the air. America’s dependence on foreign oil is also a problem that must be addressed, and this policy would seem to be a move to solve that problem. In a vacuum, these results would be positive, but one must not forget the elephant in the room (and I don’t mean the Republicans, for the right wing is a non-factor in Washington politics these days). The auto industry is already having trouble staying afloat — and new regulations certainly won’t help.
One disturbing characteristic of the regulations is the forces behind them. The organizations pushing for these standards are environmental groups that have little stake in car companies’ well-being. The Big Three only agreed because they need the support of the Obama administration to survive. But while Obama is pushing his environmental agenda, he is leaving the auto industry behind. GM and Ford are not equipped for this change, and further stress on the auto industry isn’t what our car companies need right now.
More important than specific mileage regulations are the cold hard facts about Obama’s influence on the auto industry. The steps taken by the government to keep GM alive clearly did nothing but stall the inevitable and may have in fact made the problems worse. Recently, more than 1,100 GM dealerships and over 700 Chrysler dealerships were notified that they would be shut down. The North American Dealers Association estimates more than 40,000 jobs will be lost by this move.
The fact is that Michigan — and America — can’t handle more regulation of the auto industry. While the auto industry struggles to survive, it’s unreasonable for the Obama administration to put further regulations on the auto industry to protect the environment — regulations which will take time and money to meet. GM, Ford and Chrysler don’t have time or money.
While most would agree that we have a responsibility to preserve the planet, we have to do so in a way that is mindful of our current economic needs. To put it simply: Which is more important, 40,000 trees or 40,000 people? If there is any debate, then maybe it’s time to leave the idealistic ivory towers of the Obama administration and go to the recently closed Century Dodge Inc. in Taylor, Michigan to see if employees there agree.
Asa Smith is an LSA sophomore.