December 18, 2005


New World Economy (MATT BAI, 12/18/05, NY Times Magazine)

Wal-Mart has now inherited G.M.'s mantle as the largest employer in the United States, which is why these snapshots of two corporations, taken in a single week, say more about America's economic trajectory than any truckload of spreadsheets ever could.

G.M., of course, was the very prototype of 20th-century bigness, the flagship company for a time when corporate power was vested in the hands of a small number of industrial-era institutions. There is no question that rising labor costs hurt G.M., but that obscures the larger point of the company's decline; caught in the last century's mind-set, it has often been unable or unwilling to let consumers drive its designs, as opposed to the other way around. Must the company keep making Buicks and Pontiacs until the end of days, even as they recede into American lore? Many of the workers G.M. decided to lay off last month were its best and most productive. Their bosses simply couldn't give them a car to build that Americans really wanted to buy.

As it happens, G.M.'s inability to adapt offers some perspective on our political process, too. Democrats in particular, architects of the finest legislation of the industrial age, have approached the global economy with the same inflexibility, at least since Bill Clinton left the scene. Just as G.M. has protected its outdated products at the expense of its larger mission, so, too, have Democrats become more attached to their programs than to the principles that made them vibrant in the first place. So what if Social Security and Medicaid functioned best in a world where most workers had company pensions and health insurance and spent their entire careers with one employer? The mere suggestion that these programs might be updated for a new, more consumer-driven economy sends Democratic leaders into fits of apoplexy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2005 4:01 PM

In other words- Dear Democrats:

It is not 1937; Frank Murphy is dead, as is Franklin Roosevelt. Please make a note of this.


Posted by: Mikey at December 18, 2005 4:32 PM

Matt Bai is possibly the best political writer on the Times staff. I have no idea why they keep him on.

Posted by: Timothy at December 18, 2005 5:10 PM

All of the Times' staff isn't ideoligically doctranaire in their writings. The problem a lot of the time is getting the stuff past the copy desk and the editors.

Posted by: John at December 19, 2005 12:16 AM


Bingo. I had that epiphany a few years ago after reading a John Burns piece from Iraq in which the lead paragraph said the exact opposite of what was presented in the rest of the article. It was very clear that the editors in NY were just rewriting, to suit their own twisted agenda, the part of Burns' piece that would get the most eyeballs

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 19, 2005 1:02 AM

Not just health care. I hear that WalMart doesn't give their employees food or cars, either, the dastards.

Posted by: ray at December 19, 2005 10:48 PM