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The corporate leadership of General Motors needs to be reintroduced to the concept of 'personal responsibility'. . . not the Republican version of that phrase, but ours. You know . . .the American people's definition.

It's becoming common knowledge that the Republican push for 'personal responsibility' is an odd duck. It may look like one, and act like one, but it ain't no duck. No, the 'personal responsibility' of the modern Republican Party is a far more specialized creature. What they mean by that phrase is that people should be punished for any form of uppity behavior. See, the reality is actually the inverse of what they advertise. By using the old-fashioned phrase 'personal responsibility', they encourage us to picture images of The Andy Griffith Show and heroic soldiers signing up for military service right after the attack on Pearl Harbor. You know . . . personal responsibility, the kind our grandparents would have recognized. Standing up and paying for your crime, or for the privilege of living in this culture, by openly admitting the situation and doing the time, or the service, whatever it takes.

But, you know, the modern Republican Party is really only concerned with uppity behavior. They've publicly admitted that they don't have much use for 'community'. Their whole argument that government should be shrunk down to a size small enough that it can finally be drowned in a bathtub is a tacit admission of that fact. Government, at least in our democratic ideal of that institution, IS how we enact our will as a community. Government is the mind, as dyslexic and dysfunctional as that may be, of the community. You see, my definition of 'personal responsibility' means working for the betterment of everyone. It's utilitarian, I suppose, but I see personal responsibility as acting in a way that pays the community for the benefits it provides, and making redress when we perform acts that harm it.

'Uppity behavior' on the other hand (my term for what the Republicans REALLY mean by 'personal responsibility') has absolutely nothing to do with the community. Uppity behavior means disobeying the father figure. It means daring to have sex before the permission to marry is granted. It means daring to vote in a way other than that prescribed by the leader of your party. It means questioning the wisdom of the king. And it means explaining the universe in ways that don't agree with the official word of the Father (yeah, THAT one) or even the word of some 'visionaries' who supposedly wrote in his name at some point in the past millennium.

Now, it would be common in this forum for me to start listing all of the lapses of 'personal responsibility' (our version of the term) that have occurred and illustrated the hypocrisy of the Republican political class, but that's not my point. My point here, instead, is to point out the failure of personal responsibility out here in the rest of the country. And I'm not talking about poor people who commit crimes, go to jail, and fail to provide for their families. No, those are the poster children for the Republican version. Those are the people who had it hard, and screwed up, and got in trouble with the community, and are paying the price. Actually, they aren't the crisis in personal responsibilty for which the Republicans need to be held accountable. We seem to be highly efficient at punishing those who are guilty of being poor and unloved.

What I'm talking about, as I did in my diary last month about the gathering storm of bad news facing the common man (and woman) of our society, is the failure of personal responsibility of leadership by our corporations. GM is going to lay off 30,000 employees next year. And yet more again of those precious jobs that pay living wages to those with only a high school education disappear. When was it that we decided that only having a high school education meant that you had to be poor? I want to know when that memo was passed around. Because we seem to be living under that rule of thumb these days.

The failure I see in our culture is one of corporate leadership. The plants being shut down are those that make those big SUVs that no one is suddenly buying. We pay our corporate executives hundreds of times the salaries of those on the assembly line. That's supposed to buy us good leadership. What it buys us instead is a United States auto industry that has mortgaged its soul to the profits brought about by selling gas-guzzlers to a world of dwindling resources. These are leaders who have all the necessary facts, but who have willfully decided to ignore them thanks to their goose-stepping march to the Republican drumbeat. Progress means bigger, more, higher, faster,  . . .but mostly just MORE. It certainly doesn't mean 'more efficient' or 'better'. When a company like Apple is beating the tuchus  off of Sony in a market that that Japanese powerhouse formerly dominated with an iron grip bordering on the Stalinistic, namely portable music players, why can't the U.S. auto industry respond to the world with something other than flumoxed incomprehension?? Hell, Apple is even beating Sony IN JAPAN! I'll grant that many of the products that Apple makes are manufactured overseas, but the leadership and the vision, the design and the infrastructure, are built here in the United States.  But Apple is the exception. Just about the only one. (I don't know if Apple's success has anything to do with Al Gore being on the Board of Directors, but I have my suspicions that these two truths are linked.)

I look to the just-released Honda Civic line of cars, the entire range of which were just granted the Motor Trend 'Car of the Year' award, and I glance at the offerings of Detroit and I can only grimace. Honda and Toyota had the vision to spend the last 10 years building the technology for the world that is not the world that Republican politicians wish it were. They are justifiably proud of what they've done, and they should be. This is a world in which energy will be expensive and in which efficiency matters. No wonder GM is losing market share. Honda and Toyota have a right to be proud of their leadership in this area.

Scott Shields over at MyDD has a great write-up about the link between the failure of GM and the political predilections of its leaders. I do believe that there's a link.

The warped world view of the Republican-leaning leaders of U.S. corporations is leading our economy down a rat-hole. And it's killing our working class. Or as the professor of my business school's executive leadership class said to us last week: "GM has serious problems and a lot of people are going to get hurt, but not you. You guys have been smart and are getting your MBAs. You'll be above that whole mess." The funny thing is, they really believe that blather. Right. The economy collapses. Do they really think they'll be able to get multi-million dollar salaries when they've driven all of their multi-billion dollar companies into the ditch? I really think they do. They have, after all, proven they lack any vision that's attached to reality. You know, the reality out here, connected to the real world where George W. Bush is not alway correct and in which the U.S. isn't always inherently in the right and in which oil is somehow an infinite resource.

The personal responsibility I'd like to see is that the leadership at GM take an across the board pay cut of 75 percent, and they all, collectively call for universal healthcare. It would help to cut the costs inside their company, and it would level the playing field somewhat in the international automotive industry. Those leaders, and the people in the Republican party who give them their
marching orders, need to give up their lame duck definition of personal responsibility and come back to the real world definition. Come on, GM! Time to get a bit uppity with the Republican politicians who have been giving you orders for the last 40 years. You are all losing your fatted calf. Time to step up, admit it, take your lumps, and help the greater community.

Do I think they will? No, or course not. So it's time for the rest of us in the U.S. community to replace that
leadership as well. We replace the political leaders in Washington in 2006 and 2008. But we also need to replace the corporate leadership out here in the rest of the country as soon as we possibly can.

They are failing us all. And they need to be held personally responsible for it.

Originally posted to tergenev on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 12:46 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The same can be said for the airline leaders (none)
    Especially concerning executive compensation.

    -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -t -6.75 -3.79

    by tergenev on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 12:44:43 PM PST

  •  The responsibility I'd like to see (none)
    Is for GM to hire some designers to design progressive cars which people actually want to buy.

    Then it would have some income to pay its workers with.  :-P

    And until then, for the execs to take no salary.

    But they're just not that competent.

  •  Good diary, good insight. (none)
    It's astounding to observe how lobbying has been allowed to substitute for product development and market awareness among the honchos of Detroit.
    Don't rock the boat became more important than building better, ahead of the competition. Sad. It's going to be a miserable winter for the workers of the U.S. auto industry, and all due to the misguided policies of the executives in charge.

    "I don't do quagmires, and my boss doesn't do nuance."

    by SteinL on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 01:02:06 PM PST

  •  My son owns a 1990 Honda Accord (none)
          190,000 miles on it, original in all repects except for a starter I changed two weeks ago. Still runs good and doesn't burn oil. Does GM or Ford make a product like that? I'd prefer to buy American but it's not possible to get the same quality. Not the fault of the guys on the line but of the people at the top of the company.

    "When the going gets weird, the Weird turn pro" Hunter S Thompson

    by irate on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 01:04:02 PM PST

  •  one comment (none)
    Motor Trend's car of the year is a load of crap.  The company that suck's Motor Trend's cock the most that year gets the nod.  I'm quite sure I read that at but can't remember how long ago-- they charge for access to their archives.

    No, I'm not a big-three apologist.  I would sooner be stuck with a hot poker that drive a GM, Ford, or Chrysler.  I presently own two VWs and one Subaru.

  •  Looking at it from inside the industry (none)
    I work for Toyota, so obviously I am looking at GM in terms of what they do wrong through the lense of how we would do it differently here. The problem with GM is that while it has focused all its energy on cutting costs, it knows shit about product development and manufacturing. Granted, it has made strides at some facilities, the majority of plants are utter shit. The way GM treats suppliers is shit. And the result is what we see today.

    Thanks for a great diary.

    Mikhail Khaimov San Francisco, CA

    by Tsarrio on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 01:44:09 PM PST

  •  based on my 20+ years of experience (none)
    in mfg and consulting, responsible executive mgmnt is rare and getting rarer. my opinion is that this is:
    1. due to the current theory that increase in shareholder value is the only worthy corporate goal and the resulting focus on very short term results and no/limited view of the future
    2. continuous increase in exec salaries and the resultant distancing of the execs from not only the workers, but also the 1st and 2nd line mgt.
    3. the trend in most industries/businesses to be run by administrators, that is technical business/financial experts, who have very little real experience in the businesses they are running.
    4. unholy partnerships between industries and governments.

    The above are not the only things, but in and of themselves lead to a distancing of exec's from the company, the community and to a partnership between exec's and financial institutions and governments that work against the best interests of society, employees and managers.

    the most damaging single factor is the almost slavish devotion to the unproven theory that management primarily by shareholder value is in the best interests of the company, society or the employee.

  •  you got the order backwards (none)
    Those leaders, and the people in the Republican party who give them their
    marching orders,

    It's the corporations who give the marching orders TO GOP leaders... and the Democratic Leadership Council people in Congress. That's the whole point behind K Street.

    Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

    by alizard on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 03:48:52 PM PST

    •  It's a two way street (none)
      But the executives need to stop spending so much time and energy trying to change the laws to their benefit, and just try to run their businesses well.

      -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -t -6.75 -3.79

      by tergenev on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 04:26:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  running a company well (none)
        in terms of building a company for the long run is no longer relevant to how CEOs get paid.

        C-level compensation in terms of stock options and bonuses is tied to quarterly performance. Side effect of some tax law changes made during the Reagan Administration. I think when historians a decade or two from now examine the question of how America became a Third World country, that's what the consensus is going to be as to the root cause.

        The easiest way to bump up short-term profits is cost-cutting moves or buying laws that favor short-term company interests regardless of what happens to the companies or its employees in the long run, chances are, a CEO isn't figuring on being with the company more than 5 years anyway, and he knows if his short-term thinking weakens the company enough to get it taken over, that his golden parachute will cover his ass.

        So instead of retaining experienced people who are more productive and more knowledgable, the company offshores. Instead of engineering cars with better gas mileage, the auto industry buys off Congressional fuel economy laws.

        Here's another example of companies buying the kind of regulation they want, even when it's stupid. In the case of the cell phone industry, everywhere outside the US enacted a single basic mobile phone standard called GSM and told companies they couldn't charge for incoming calls and that changing carriers must be easy. As a result, cell phone penetration in places like EU is roughly 100%... and one can buy a phone just about anywhere in the world that'll work anywhere in the world (BTW, roaming is pretty seamless) EXCEPT THE USA. Your cell phone won't work in the rest of the world. Is the US phone industry better off for not having every adult American as a customer? Are we better off?

        Imagine a government essentially devoted to making sure that CEOs get whatever they want regardless of the national or even the long-term interests of these companies as long as they keep coming up with campaign money.

        You don't have to, that's exactly what we've got, and the GOP and DLC Democrats are to blame.

        Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

        by alizard on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 08:52:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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