There’s an interesting essay by New York University finance professor David Yermack in today’s Wall Street Journal.
Just Say No to Detroit
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 David Yermack.
Before Michael Moore became famous for documentaries like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko,” his first big success came in 1989 with “Roger and Me.” In that film, Mr. Moore followed General Motors chairman and chief executive Roger Smith with a camera crew, asking him why the company was closing plants and producing low-quality vehicles. Mr. Smith looked flustered and inartfully avoided Mr. Moore’s camera crew while it lingered outside his country club or GM’s executive offices.
“Roger and Me” was entertaining, but it missed the real story about Roger Smith, who turned out to be a forward-thinking genius. Mr. Smith made big investments in information technology and satellite communications, acquiring Electronic Data Systems in 1984 for $2.5 billion and Hughes Aircraft in 1985 for $5.2 billion. Mr. Smith’s successors divested those businesses at huge profits — EDS was taken public in 1996 for more than $27 billion, and Hughes, renamed DirecTV, went public in 2003 for more than $23 billion. (The man who sold EDS to Roger Smith at a bargain price was H. Ross Perot, who then convinced many people that the experience qualified him to be president.)
Mr. Smith understood all too well that GM shouldn’t continue investing in its failing automobile business. That was 25 years ago. Today, 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. Read the rest…
From a purely academic point of view professor Yermack’s conclusions are interesting. From a political point of view they’re a non-starter. No politician democrat or republican liberal or conservative is going to allow 3 bellwethers of American industry to fail… Even if that means throwing good money after bad.