Big 3 automakers have certainly made a terrible mess of things, but the debate over saving them reflects a double standard that often works to the detriment of blue-collar industries and, more importantly, their blue-collar employees. There is a bias among economic-development policymakers and pundits in favor of white-collar businesses - reflected in huge tax breaks for office construction, and commentary that gives blunders committed on Wall Street an easier ride than those committed in Detroit. This is one reason it was a lot easier to form a consensus about helping Wall Street than it's been to reach one about aiding Detroit.To illustrate, here are two recent Tom Friedman columns. He ably summarized the Big 3 automakers' sins:"How could these companies be so bad for so long? Clearly the combination of a very un-innovative business culture, visionless management and overly generous labor contracts explains a lot of it. " He urges the harsh steps proposed by the Wall Street Journal's former Detroit bureau chief Paul Ingrassia. He concludes: "somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesnt need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if hed like to do national service and run a car company for a year. Id bet it wouldnt take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar."Friedman was much more mild in an October column on the collapse of Wall Street: "We need to get back to collaborating the old-fashioned way. That is, people making decisions based on business judgment, experience, prudence, clarity of communications and thinking about how not just how much."
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.