Fuck GM

Is that too harsh? Sorry, just being honest.

Today I met with a DPD planner who specializes in green building, and we discussed the huge challenges we face with the built environment, and eventually the conversation got to the inevitable acknowledgement that we really don’t know how we’re ever going to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that the experts are calling for — nothing less than 80% by 2050.

And on the way back to my office, I came upon the scene in the photo above, at the top of Harbor Steps on 1st Ave. And the first thing that came to my mind was this: Fuck GM! You are part of the problem. A big part. So take your fucking hybrid SUV and your stupid-ass “Green Today, Clean Tomorrow” banner complete with the Hummer logo and your free GM-inscribed cycling water bottles and get the fuck out of my city and go crawl into a hole and die.

So GM, here you are, one of the most powerful corporations that ever existed, at the apex of American free market capitalism and technology, and here we are in the year 2008 facing the biggest environmental crisis in the history of humanity, and this is the best you’ve got to offer? A hybrid Yukon SUV that gets 21 mpg? This is what you want the people out on the streets of downtown Seattle to get excited about?

GM, you have failed your society. You could have produced a 100 mpg car ten, perhaps 20 years ago. Maybe you could have produced a 200 mpg by now, who knows (check out “Who Killed the Electric Car?“). You had a colossal R&D budget at your disposal, but instead of investing in a future we all know was coming, you chose to focus your efforts on bigger and less efficient vehicles because they provided the biggest short term profits.

There are some who would argue that GM is not culpable because they were only giving the people what they wanted. Nonsense. They marketed the hell out of SUVs. They could just as easily have decided to put their advertising dollars into a campaign to sell high-efficiency cars. Don’t underestimate the effect it might have had: We are a culture that is exceedingly accomplished at influencing people through advertising.

But even more to the heart of things, that “invisible hand of the free market” defense of GM reveals a pernicious defect in our economic dogma: It lets everyone off the hook for making any moral decisions. As in, “if someone wants to buy my product, it doesn’t matter what that product is, it’s the buyer’s choice and not my responsibility to judge.” And so, for example, we end up with major corporations profiting by marketing and selling sugar water to a population that is increasingly overweight. Or a bazillion SUVs on the road as both oil prices and CO2 levels rise at alarming rates.

The responsibility to make moral decisions comes with being human. And with greater power comes greater responsibility. Instead of abdicating moral choice to the invisible hand, the executives of large corporations like GM, because they command such vast influence over others, have a correspondingly vast obligation to make careful and humane moral decisions. It’s not easy. But our system tells them not to bother, so they don’t.

Under normal circumstances GM’s poor performance would simply be unfortunate — they would adapt or they would go under. But in our current situation, the stakes are high and getting higher. And here’s what we could do about it: In consideration of GM’s historic and ongoing failure to produce the high-efficiency cars that are needed immediately to help mitigate potentially incalculable damage to human society brought on by global warming, we revoke GM’s corporate charter and nationalize the corporation. And then make the number one priority of the organization the production of ultra-high efficiency vehicles. This would unleash the creative energy of all the frustrated GM employees who have long been wishing GM would do the right thing — and I suspect there are lots of them. The organization would have a noble mission akin to the Manhattan project, and great things would happen fast.

Unrealistically radical, yes indeed — today. But if current trends continue, this sort of radical action is likely to start being all the more palatable, if not urgently necessary.

31 Responses to “Fuck GM”

  1. Jason

    There are millions of doctors around the word that have NOT cured cancer despite trillions of dollars in R&D. Do you say “fuck medicine” too? Companies exist to make money, not to follow your whims about trends like environmentalism. GM produced eco-friendly cars the last time saving the earth was trendy (remember the Geo Metro?) and a few years later, nobody wanted them. Stop expecting companies to think for the rest of us. If I have the means to buy a huge SUV, let me. Even if I do, and even if everyone else in Seattle does, it won’t make a lick of difference against the natural forces of global climate change.

    Alternate proposal: invest in GM stock, then use the profits to help invest in sustainable energy yourself. You only need $45 trillion. Stop blogging and get to work. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080606/ap_on_sc/japan_iea_climate_change_1

  2. .com

    Nationalize, really ? I wish more people had lived under communism like I did in Eastern Europe. Maybe then no one would be calling for something so idiotic. In a real world we should let GM go bankrupt and hope for a reorganization or let Toyota or some other company that knows what they’re doing, buy GM out.

    Nationalization is about the last thing that brings out anything good or creative in people.

  3. Matt the Engineer

    Sing it, [dan]. GM was short-sighted and still is. I spoke to one of their engineers a few years ago, who was clinging to old ideas about horsepower and making excuses about how their cars are as efficient as they can make them (and now we’re importing Priuses as fast as they can make them).

    [Jason]//invest in GM stock, then use the profits to help invest in sustainable energy yourself//
    Ha! GM profits. We won’t see those again in the next few decades.

  4. davebordoley

    Fuck GM they pretty much single handedly destroyed flint, detroit and most of Michigan’s economy. I always hated going to the autoshow as a kid growing up. Fuck em.

  5. Christo de Klerk

    I agree with your conclusion, but your “invisible hand of the free market defense of GM” argument is flawed.

    It is the invisible hand of the free market that will flick GM off the map. The free market supports those who respond to the demands of a broad base of agencies for the purpose of securing long term profitability.

    Today’s free market demands are becoming clear: we demand higher mpg automobiles, the environment demands a reduction in greenhouse emissions. These are the signs of the problem.

    It is the abuse and manipulation of the markets through government subsidies, regulation (see California’s role in the story), conspiracy,
    and marketing that point to the problem.

    To narrowly respond to government subsidies and regulations alone is to meet a limited market. To try and shape demand by removing streetcars and giving personality to gas guzzlers is to meet an imaginary market. This is the road to the problem.

    The market is not a game dependent on how you play others, although it tolerates a lot of it. The market is a game that plays you. If you fail to realize where your security as a company comes from – you will lose. That is the problem.

  6. NBeacon Jon

    You’ll hardly ever catch me defending car companies but Jason and .com have it right. If they are on a path of self destruction with their business model of low mileage vehicles, let them twist in the wind and die. Start nationalizing, and close behind will be rationing and lines for food.

    As egregious as Dan finds ‘the market’, it’s what has given this country the greatest standard of living, ever. 10 years ago, the market said, ‘I want a 2500 lb vehicle that rides high, gas prices be damed.’ Detroit jumped all over it, and you could argue that that situation saved the big 3, or at least delayed, the massive layoffs, restucturings, unit sell offs we’re seeing now.

    The problem is, the market is saying ‘$4.00 gas is too much for my 13 m.p.g. Tahoe’. And the big 3 have 3-5 year model cycles. Christo makes a great point with the subsidies issue too.

    Today we hear that oil is going to $150 / barrell, which will bring $5.00 fer sure. If you want SUV’s off the roads Danno, your wish is going to come true. (along with a host of perhaps less than desirable side effects).

  7. dorian gray

    Flint lol. I think that city was toast at inception. Anyway even recently big 4 ago executives were on CNBC touting the prius and all as a fad and GM doesn’t do fads but cars Americans have a history of supporting.

  8. Keith

    It’s in situations like these that I think Seattle would benefit from an underground, loose-knit, rotten tomato-throwing organization.

  9. wes

    Who let them park on our sidewalk? I hate seeing good sidewalks go to parking a car, no matter its size.

  10. Dan Staley

    As egregious as Dan finds ‘the market’, it’s what has given this country the greatest standard of living, ever.

    That, and being the sole industrial power left after WWII, and subsidizing the Interstate system and home mortgages. And so on.

    But I don’t think GM failed our society. I never gave them license to succeed in my behalf or to make my life easier.

    All us may have unwittingly given power to Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, et al to fail our society, but GM? Eh.

  11. dan bertolet

    Jason, .com, and NBeaconJon:
    I wrote the post under the assumption that we all recognize how effective the free market has been at raising living standards, and that the Soviet block totalitarian system was a failure. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hearing all about it since before I hit puberty. What I am asking you to do is think a little more deeply, a little more outside the box, about the limitations and unseen downsides of the free market, especially in the context of a global environmental crisis.

    Joshua, yes, corporations exist to make money, but is that an immutable law of physics? What effect does such a complete focus on money have on the character of people and culture?

    .com, is it really that black and white — nationalized efforts never work, ever? This is the dogma-driven attitude that keeps the U.S. from moving to nationalized health care, even though there is overwhelming evidence that it is more cost effective and beneficial to society as a whole than the “free market” system we now have.

    NBeaconJon, is standard of living, which typically means GDP, the be-all end-all measure of human success? What are the costs of free market growth in terms of natural and social capital?

    Today in a waiting room I picked up a copy of Outside magazine and was greeted by a two page spread on the 400hp Cadillac CTS. GM is paying that magazine to promote a lifestyle that is destroying the very outside the magazine is all about. This is the kind of perverse world created by the free market set loose without any moral compass.

    And this lack of moral direction is a critical factor, I believe, in how successful we will be in responding to the prospect of global environmental collapse. Free market capitalism does not understand limits, yet we are now reaching the limits of our planet in several realms. To me this strongly suggests that we should be open to adjusting our thinking. If the private sector is failing to deliver what we need to thrive or even survive, then as far as I’m concerned all options are on the table, including nationalization. Nationalized efforts are the norm in war. Call me an alarmist, but all the evidence I see points to the likelihood of global crisis as serious as any war if we don’t start changing fast.

  12. NBeacon Jon

    You’re right, I use ’standard of living’ here in a most consumerist vein. Because we are all consumers of this economy in one fashion or another, and I can’t argue with you if one advance is more worthy than another.

    I understand that you want fellow readers to dig a little deeper, and I’m for it. Trying to marry concepts of marketplace coupled with affordability/convienience/consumer desires with, pardon the expression, ’squishy’ concepts of social capital and measuring human moral values, is a difficult exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a cleaner environment, and thanks in part to this site, I have a keener eye for sustainable design of structures. I get nervous when we talk of imposing wills by dictat.

    Side note: my biggest complaint of Detroit; they’ve got, what over 100 years worth of design into the internal
    combustion engine, and still we have to fill up every 300 miles?

  13. To Cap and Trade or Not To Cap and Trade | hugeasscity

    [...] I’m not ready to give up on Cap and Trade — there are lots of smart people supporting it, and even if its overall effectiveness is debatable, at least it is a step in the right direction. But Dorsey’s sentiments resonate with an intuition of mine that just keeps getting stronger over the years: We have entered an uncharted regime in which human activity is pushing the limits of the planet, and if we hope to thrive as a species, we must emancipate ourselves from the religion of the free market. (I alluded to this here.) Free market economics cultivates competition at the expense cooperation, and this competitive attitude permeates everything we do, ranging from how we treat our neighbors to how we treat the planet. [...]

  14. mike

    “They marketed the hell out of SUVs”

    they also convinced legislators to introduce ridiculous tax breaks to push these things into the market…

  15. Andy McNee

    If your Anti-General Motors,then your Anti America.

    All of you should be ashamed of your coward like opinions/comments. It was The GENERAL who pumped out tanks/military vehicles in order to win the Worl War your country limped into ( cowards ). Support the company that employess 6 for each one GENERAL MOTORS!

  16. Futzbutton

    “American GM Vice President (later Colonel) Graeme K. Howard was a committed Nazi, and expressed such views in his book, America and a New World Order. Adolf Hitler awarded GM boss James D. Mooney the Order of Merit of the Golden Eagle for his services to Nazi Germany. General Motors’ internal documents show a clear strategy to profit from their German military contracts even after Germany declared war against America.”
    -Wikipedia

    Hey McNee – this doesn’t sound patriotic to me. Sounds quite Anti-American. I say take your American hating, views elsewhere…

  17. jim young

    fuck GM, I just watched the show Who killed the electric car. After watching this I can tell you that the big auto and oil industry are in bed with each other. The EV1 was an electric car that every one who leased it wanted, but GM said no, instead the joined with the bush adm, to fight California’s mandate of 0 emissions. When they won and Cal. backed down, they pulled the EV1 off the market and said no one wanted it. Even though privat buyers had a waiting list and offered 2 million to buy the last 80 cars. GM said no and sent them to the crusher. Fuck GM. I sold my pos avao and bought a Toyota corolla.
    Next GM sold their 60% stake in a battery company that was building much imporved batterys for the EV1 to you gussed it Texaco Chevron. Fuck big oil and limbaugh and hannity, mouth pcs. for corporate america. We need a sea change in government, I say vote for Obama and if he does not hold to change 4 years from now vote him out and someone else in. Do you republican idiots really think that corporate america has your best interests at heart? If so fuck you to, you are to stupid to know the differance between good an evil.

  18. Joshua

    Ehh, Jim: it’s “fuck you, TOO” and “you are TOO stupid”. Also, it’s “difference” and not “differance”. I don’t disagree with you fundamentally (though a little less of the histrionics would help with the effectiveness of your critique), but when you’re calling someone else stupid, it always helps to get the spelling right.

  19. Anthony

    Clearly, it has come down to the consumer. Yes, we have the power to make changes in the market place. Right now, it is all about the consumer making all the right choices to invest in a greener planet. We don’t want SUV’s that get 32 mpg; we want SUV’s that get 100-200 mpg, hybrid and plugable. Hydrogen liquid and gas would be the standard fuel. Fuel cells would provide cars with electricity, recharge lithium ion batteries, and maybe a hydrogen 3 cyl internal combustion engine as a backup. Wind power, solar voltaics, and methane gas from the earth (and landfills) would supplement our energy neees. Nuclear is hazardous and the hidden expense: highly radioactive waste for disposal; all this to boil water to create STEAM; extremely wasteful, dangerous and inefficient–dollar wise. I heard that initally Toyota wasn’t sure that Americans would buy their Prius because it did not roar while idling at a light or stop sign. Americans do not need to worry. They can use audio streams of a roaring engine (ipod) to get their adrenaline high. Yes, consumers; it’s doable; NOW!

  20. Jim

    The author is obviously some chicken little limp wristed idiot who thinks humans have no right to exist on the planet.

  21. dave

    Jim (November 7th, 2008 at 3:20 pm) is obviously a deep thinker.

    It’s the infantile behavior of shallow egomaniacs (like Jim) that requires the Federal govt. to do it’s job and protect the greater interests of society. The only way to prevent selfish gluttons from driving everyone to a fully-baked planet is for government to do what the vast majority of us are not willing to do: conserve. Government MUST impose draconian taxes on gasoline: never let a gallon of gas cost less than six dollars. That will force selfish pricks like Jim to leave their beasts in the garage, where they belong.

  22. Cars Are Our Salvation Forever | hugeasscity

    [...] I have been so wrong about cars.  They’re great! [...]

  23. iU

    Today we’ve had the “Who Killed The Electric Car” show on TV here in Barcelona, Spain… and for sure you should assume as a terrible shame what did happen regarding this affair.
    I expect you to pay attention to the contents of the matter and not the “spelling”. I expect U to be a bit wiser and sagacious than those who just show a subject behaviour, the voice of their lord.
    From the point of view of an enthusiast of real development and technical progress.. i agree with the topic(in fact, the query in Google that has driven me here).
    I love motor and speed… 78,759 mpg running 120 km/h on my bike but anything empowering a sofa with no dirt has to be taken for God sake.

  24. ICU and I.P.Friele

    dave (Nov. 15, 2008),YOU are the infantile thinker !! You missed jim’s sardonic
    perspective altogether !!

  25. Keifer

    fuck you liberal ass lickers. fuck you all. i hope GM polluted your fucking neighborhood and caused your daddy’s sperm to be responsible for your mental birth defects. you fucking retard!!!

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  27. Kids Pools 

    i like the safety features of Toyota Corollas, Toyota really makes safe cars*;`

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  29. Ron Hyatt

    Don’t worry, Obama will see to it that GM is killed off, just like America.

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