Having briefly lived in a city whose residents, like those of the surrounding municipalities, are largely dependent for their livelihood on the manufacture of one of the brands that is likely to be most affected by changes in the way America drives, let me remind everyone of the social costs of the governmental policies that help lead to decisions like this:
Mr. Wagoner said that rising gasoline prices had forced a “structural shift” by American consumers away from truck-based vehicles built by G.M.
“These prices are changing consumer behavior and changing it rapidly,” Mr. Wagoner said in announcing the cuts before G.M.’s centennial shareholders meeting in Wilmington, Del. “We don’t believe it’s a spike or a temporary shift. We believe it is, by and large, permanent.”
In what he called “difficult” decisions, Mr. Wagoner said that G.M. would close plants in Janesville, Wisc.; Moraine, Ohio; Oshawa, Ontario; and Toluca, Mexico by or before 2010.
The cuts will affect about 8,000 workers at the four plants, although not all of those people will lose their jobs. Some will be able to fill spots created when other workers leave because of early retirement and buyout offers.
The actions follow previous moves to cut shifts at two truck plants in Michigan.
“This is tough stuff,” Mr. Wagoner said after the meeting. “It’s not about we like this plant better than that one. It’s about that the market has radically changed and we have to adapt to it.”
Mr. Wagoner said it was “unlikely” that the plants would reopen at any point with new products, but declined to provide details about relocating workers to other plants.
Clearly, much of this is the result of "market realities" that arose, or at least would eventually have arisen, very much on their own and without any governmental prodding, but the fact remains that it is a sad lesson that warrants our concernful attention. Heaven knows I'm just about as crunchy as they come in my "personal life", and the fact that I'm thereby supporting bus drivers and local farmers rather than automobile manufacturers and soybean growers tends not to bother me one bit, but the consequences - that is to say, the consequences in the lives of persons and their families, and not merely "the environment" or (worse) "the economy" - of official policies that favor certain ways of life at the expense of others are much more far-reaching, and must always be borne in mind when we are up to our wonkery. (Think of the huge cultural effects of farm policies that have favored "high-efficiency" - that is to say, oil- rather than man-powered - agribusiness over family farming.) It is disheartening to see the selectiveness with which various political coalitions turn to such considerations, depending on the issue - pollution and climate change, same-sex marriage and adoption, crime and the drug wars, abortion, taxation, education, and so on - that is at stake.
My point here is not that the loss of these jobs - many of which are being replaced by others elsewhere in North America - shows that the price of gasoline needs to be artificially lowered or the automotive industry bailed out; rather, it is just to highlight the manifold ways in which our ideas have consequences. To insist that we (by which I mean those who influence and enact public policy) do no harm is, again, obviously too much. But we could at least try to be more cognizant of the scope of the damage that we inevitably do.
(Cross-posted at Upturned Earth.)