Or at least that's how I read the editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. Here's the gist:
The car makers say that bankruptcy is unthinkable and "not an option." And bankruptcy would certainly be expensive, not least for Washington itself, which could be responsible for 600,000 or so retiree pensions through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. In that sense, the bailout is intended to rescue the politicians from having to honor that earlier irresponsible guarantee. But at least that guarantee would be finite. If Uncle Sam buys into Detroit, $50 billion would only be the start of the outlays as taxpayers were obliged to protect their earlier investment in uncompetitive companies.* * *If our politicians can't avoid throwing taxpayer cash at Detroit, then they should at least do so in a way that really protects taxpayers. That means handing a receiver the power to replace current management, zero out current shareholders, and especially to rewrite labor and other contracts. Anything less is merely a payoff to Michigan politicians and their union allies.
Paul Ingrassia, writing in the same paper, holds out the prospect of life-support. But at a premium price:
In return for any direct government aid, the board and the management should go. Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a government-appointed receiver -- someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical -- should have broad power to revamp GM with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible.That will mean tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers, closing some operations and selling others, and downsizing the company. After all that, the company can float new shares, with taxpayers getting some of the benefits. The same basic rules should apply to Ford and Chrysler.These are radical steps, and they wouldn't avoid significant job losses. But there isn't much alternative besides simply letting GM collapse, which isn't politically viable. At least a government-appointed receiver would help assure car buyers that GM will be around, in some form, to honor warranties on its vehicles. It would help minimize losses to the government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.But giving GM a blank check -- which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant -- would be an enormous mistake. The company would just burn through the money and come back for more. Even more jobs would be wiped out in the end.
I'd love to hear Charles Morris's take on this.