Here's the one thing: Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
By now you've heard the news that General Motors has officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection — they are the third biggest company to ever do so after Lehman Brothers and WorldCom.
Even though the latest Rasmussen poll found that only 1 in 5 people wanted the bailout plan, the American taxpayers, the Canadian and Ontario governments and the United Automobile Workers union now own GM.
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Monday's filing effectively closes a history that had been one of innovation and success, followed quickly by bureaucracy, political pandering and failure.
Back at the turn of the last century, GM's founder William Durant thought the car was the way of the future — and he was right.
Unlike Ford, which made black, boxy cars on the cheap, GM became known for different colors, features and styles; and "comfort" became the motto for the five brands of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac.
During the Great Depression, the company adapted and survived by building diesel locomotives running America's railroads. GM was the first company to make more than a billion dollars a year; and at one point was the world's single biggest employer.
But last year, the government decided that GM was too big to fail and began bailouts that will (through the end of bankruptcy) end up costing taxpayers $49.5 billion. If you look at it another way, saving each GM North American employee's job costs taxpayers $427,000. And the only people guaranteed to benefit from this bankruptcy are the lawyers: estimates are they'll generate $1.2 billion in fees.
What kind of innovation can we expect from "Government Motors"? With people who've never run a business, like Barney Frank, in charge, we may be setting ourselves up to repeat another part of history: We could all be driving the same car, kind of like East Germany's Trabant or the old Soviet Union's Lada.
So what's the lesson here?
The government needs to live up to our president's word and get out of the business of running companies and it needs to let innovation jump back in the driver's seat. American ingenuity is responsible for inventing and perfecting the car — along with thousands of other products that have changed lives for the better. And, believe it or not, it all happened without the government's help.
Surely, if hard-working, innovative Americans are freed up from politics, unions and red tape, we could do it again.
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