"If taxpayers are going to support General Motors, let's turn General Motors into a company worthy of it," former SEC chair Richard Breeden, told the Washington Post back on December 10.
The statement wasn't so remarkable because it was made by someone who once served as chairman of the SEC under a Republican president (Bush Sr.).
Rather, it should have reminded the current administration how the public interest can be advanced through the process of bankruptcy.
Instead of nationalizing GM (which they have) and directing it to meet our preeminent national security challenge (i.e. dependence on oil), President Obama's team has completely abdicated their responsibility by proclaiming the government a reluctant shareholder.
Clearly everyone wants to see a viable auto industry at the end of the day, with taxpayer-funded GM returning to its status as a world-class automaker. But there's no better way to do that than by embracing those broader public standards on energy and the environment.
As Jennifer Granholm put it, "The moment is now to use our lean, retooled American manufacturing sector to build the green cars, batteries, a smart electric grid, wind turbines and solar panels that will lead us to energy independence."
For the government to do that, it is going to need a broader set of policies (possibly including a carbon/gas tax) that integrate those concerns as the route to viability and profitability for GM.
That's what just about every other government with a stake in the industry is doing, as Prof. Harley Shaiken has pointed out.
What we are continuing to witness is the price we pay for a market-based ideology that translates into the government's total abdication to Wall Street.
Workers, communities, the environment be damned.
Going back to Breeden. Recall that he served as a court-appointed corporate monitor over WorldCom. And that as a condition for MCI emerging afterwards, Breeden set out (and the court adopted) a list of requirements for the company, including a (weak) CEO pay cap.
Why not do that with GM? And on a much more aggressive level? After all, that was a case where taxpayers had no skin in the game.
As Robert Reich and Max Fraser among others have pointed out, "we need a bold industrial policy aimed at bridging the gap between older industries and emerging ones, revitalizing the moribund manufacturing sector, supporting an economy based on high-wage union jobs and attending to the crucial climate concerns that impact us all."
Any ideological timidity (call it Lemon Liberalism) in the face of what's needed could result in a much deeper industrial and ecological tragedy.