The Ballad Of Dirty Harry

Go ahead punk, make my day

Go ahead punk, make my day

This week’s news that activist investors are seeking $8 billion in stock buybacks from General Motors has reignited a nearly half century of concerns that the once-dominant automaker continues to prioritize short-term results over long-term strategy. Already behind the competition on global platform rationalization, fuel efficiency, pricing power and luxury-brand margins, GM clearly has better things to do with its cash than give it away to investors. But while analysts and investors wrestle with these issues, taxpayers face an even more troubling question: how is it possible that they lost over $10 billion on GM’s equity only to have Wall Street strip $8 billion in cash from the company with the help of a member of the president’s auto task force?

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World War Car: Send In The Hedge Funds

Masters of the Universe tend to leave a lot of fingerprints...

Masters of the Universe tend to leave a lot of fingerprints…

As information technology made global markets a reality in the 1990s, a wave of thought espousing a liberal-democratic “end of history” became widely popular. Thanks to markets and democracy, it was believed, the patterns of the preceding centuries would be replaced with a new global peace, maintained by transnational business bonds whose mutual benefits would prevent democracies from pursuing antagonistic agendas. In certain ways, the theory has proven more than mere wishful thinking: one can imagine far more friction occurring between China and the US, were these two largest economies in the world not woven so tightly together. And yet, in the auto industry, where the line between free market multinational and “national champion” has often been a thin one, the subtext of geostrategic competition seems to be seeping through more and more of the news.

Bertel’s report on the lawsuit against Ferdinand Piëch and Wolfgang Porsche is a prime example of the suspicion, if nothing else, that the US government’s involvement in the auto industry has aroused. Naturally Der Spiegel, the original reporter on the lawsuit, didn’t assert the involvement of the NSA… but in the post-Snowden and post-bailout world, German commentators can’t help but wonder where Singer’s information comes from. Basic logic suggests precisely what can not be reported: How do you know that Piech and Porsche used hardened cell-phones and unbreakable codes, if you haven’t tried breaking in? Though a vocal proponent of free markets, Singer is no longer living in the 1990s; thanks to an arms race in government support for auto industries, his lawsuit’s implication of secret information about Germany’s national champion automaker forces it into the wider context of  US “geonomic” tactics that appears to  include sending Goldman Sachs into Libya instead of the Marines.

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