IT'S PRETTY scary that corporate America has sliced half a million jobs over the last month.
And, according to President-elect Barack Obama, the economy will get much worse before it improves. Corporate greed is to blame. Particularly, in Detroit, where the auto industry is begging Congress to approve another multibillion-dollar bailout package, despite how irresponsible it has been to consumers. Corporate greed, not unions, has toppled the U.S. auto industry.
A glut of unsold cars (and not just Big Three ones) are piling up because people either can't or won't get loans to buy a new one. With maxed-out credit and burdensome mortgages, most people understand that a new car, even when a car is a necessity, is just not a sound investment. A new car depreciates by thousands of dollars the moment it leaves the lot.
And Big Three cars trail in the market because the engineering is always one stride behind the competition. While Volkswagen, Audi and Volvo were perfecting their turbo engines, Americans were falling in love with gas-guzzling, eight-cylinder SUVs that may be fast and powerful but definitely aren't easy on the environment. The Japanese, Germans, Swedes (and in recent years, Koreans) have produced superior yet environmentally-friendly products. It isn't the union's fault that GM, Chrysler and Ford's quality doesn't live up to their price tags.
JAPANESE automakers delivered their first gas-electric hybrids, the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius, more than 10 years ago. Our own automakers should have caught on then that hybrids would soon be in demand. As one mechanic put it to me, "American engineers haven't even figured out how to make a decent four-cylinder engine, while foreign-made cars take turbo to an entirely new dimension."
Though the Japanese-created Toyota/Lexus brand continues to lead in sales, even they find themselves scrambling to find storage space for the overflow stock which hasn't sold.
I was talking to a friend of mine who's worked in banking for decades. She's a lawyer whose compensation packages always include incentives and bonuses, while I'm a struggling journalist who has the money blues daily.
This year, she told me, her boss informed her team that none of the company's managers would get bonuses this year even though they'd hit their numbers and the company continues to make money.
She tells me that her CEO is much too greedy to take a pay cut himself, but he had no problem asking any of them to.
This is the type of corporate greed has sunk the American economy across the board. Although my friend is far from a socialist, and lives a very comfortable life, she says the only way to rescue America from financial ruin is for CEOs to help absorb the hits the country is taking.
Years ago, when I was a radio news director, I had a general manager who often didn't deposit his own paychecks for months just to make sure that the rest of us got paid.
One time, our boss asked the entire management team to hold our own checks for a week to make sure that the folks in the trenches got paid. We were all pretty mad about it, but we complied because the boss had set such a fine example.
As a longtime writer about cars, I've never understood why American automakers continued to push gas-guzzling SUVs instead of developing superior hybrids. Although the Toyota Prius gets 48 mpg in the city compared to an SUV that may get only 17, it's taken the Big Three way too long to catch on to the concept of green-friendly cars.
I love SUVs - but I love the earth much more. If I were in the market for a new car, my piched purse would pass on the gas-guzzler, and I'd go for a fuel-efficient minivan or a hybrid SUV instead.
Too little and perhaps much too late, U.S, automakers are finally catching on to this technology, which has been around for decades. Now that they need their own rescue plan, perhaps they'll make alternative-fuel cars a priority, and U.S. consumers will regain faith in their products.
President-elect Obama has called for the auto industry to change its internal strategies before Washington approves a financial bailout plan - and every one of us must carefully scrutinize American businesses to see if they are actually working in the best interest of the nation, or only themselves.
If we can't count on the corporations to care about their employees, then we need to consider developing a new style of doing business - for our own salvation. *
Fatimah Ali is a regular contributor. E-mail her at email@example.com.