Just Say No to Detroit; Let's Cut Our Losses And Let Society's Scarce Investment Flow To Better Uses
Given the abysmal performance by Detroit's Big Three, it would be better to send each employee a check than to waste it on a bailout, says NYU finance professor David Yermack in today's WSJ:
Our government is being asked to put tens of billions of dollars in GM, Ford and Chrysler, but we would be much better off if Washington allowed these companies to go bankrupt and disappear.
Over the past decade, the capital destruction by GM has been breathtaking. A net $182 billion of society's capital has been pumped into GM over the past decade -- a waste of about $1.5 billion per month of national savings. The story at Ford has not been as adverse but is still disheartening, as Ford has invested $155 billion and consumed $8 billion net of depreciation since 1998.
As a society, we have very little to show for this $465 billion. At the end of 1998, GM's market capitalization was $46 billion and Ford's was $71 billion. Today both firms have negligible value, with share prices in the low single digits. Both are facing imminent bankruptcy and delisting from the major stock exchanges. When a company makes money-losing investments, the cost falls upon all of society. Investment capital represents our limited stock of national savings, and when companies spend it badly, our future well-being is compromised.
Investing in the major auto companies today would be throwing good money after bad. Many are suggesting that $25 billion of public money be immediately injected into the auto business in order to buy time for an even larger bailout to be organized. We would do better to set this money on fire rather than using it to keep these dying firms on life support, setting them up for even more money-losing investments in the future.
Americans are not going to stop driving cars, and if GM, Ford and Chrysler disappear, other companies will expand to soak up their market share, adding jobs in the process. Many suppliers will also stay in business to satisfy the residual demand for spare parts even if the Detroit manufacturers go under. If the government wants to spend $25 billion to protect auto workers, it would do better to transfer the money to them directly (perhaps by cutting each worker a check for $10,000) rather than by keeping their unproductive employer in business.
It's time to cut our losses and let society's scarce investment capital flow to an industry with more long-term potential to create jobs and economic value.