Sunday, November 08, 2009

"This is not a slippery slope. This is falling off a cliff."

When government slippery slope goes vertical
In the Obama era, the slippery slope has gone vertical. Instead of "eventually," the feared extensions of government power come immediately.

When President Obama decided to convert George W. Bush's bailout of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler L.L.C. into effective government ownership, critics warned that this could lead to political intrusion into the management of automobile companies, with decisions being made for political instead of economic reasons. The companies would get less efficient. The government might try to preserve jobs or engage in political grandstanding rather than build sound companies that serve consumers - eventually.

But there was no "eventually" about it. Before he had even secured government control, Obama fired the chief executive officer of General Motors. He decided what the ownership structure of the companies should be. He insisted that the companies build "clean cars" rather than cars that consumers want to buy. And as soon as a deal was concluded, members of Congress started trying to block the closing of inefficient dealerships and to require the companies to buy their palladium in Montana, use unionized trucking companies, remove mercury from scrapped cars, and so on. Politics reared its ugly head in the first moments of government control.

Now we have the federal government's unprecedented intrusions into executive-pay decisions at seven bailed-out banks and automobile companies. The Obama administration's "pay czar," unlike most of the so-called White House czars, has an appalling amount of real power. He "has sole discretion to set compensation for the top 25 employees of each of those companies," and his decisions "won't be subject to appeal," according to recent articles in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, respectively. I was appalled when he used that autocratic power to make such sweeping cuts in executive pay.

True, these executives were running their companies with taxpayers' money. Live by the bailout, die by the bailout. If you don't want to make a government salary, don't take government money. It's a bad idea for government to attach strings to its funding, to use its money to impose an agenda, but the reality is that it does. Maybe it's a good lesson for other executives: Don't take government money.