On Tuesday, a Chinese company announced plans to acquire the rights to the Hummer from General Motors. It will keep the senior management and operational team.
Wow. So you like the Hummer? Step right over here. I've got some other beauties you might like - Saab, Saturn, Pontiac. Better yet, can we interest you in some insurance? Are you familiar with the letters AIG? For the cost of a policy, you can now buy the whole company.
And on excellent terms. No need to pay in dollars. We prefer you keep those. Instead, you could forgive some of our debt, lower your savings rate, and stop laughing at Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, as students at Peking University did on Monday when he said "Chinese assets are very safe" with the United States. It's hard to translate humor, but, honestly, he wasn't joking.
That there are Chinese dumb enough to buy a tank for driving the narrow streets of Beijing is the most reassuring economic news we've had in a while. Perhaps Chinese hegemony isn't inevitable.
Remember when we fretted that the Japanese were so much smarter and harder-working that they'd soon take over the world? Then Sony bought Columbia Pictures, apparently because its president liked watching movies. The Japanese gobbled up real estate trophies such as Pebble Beach and Rockefeller Center.
It didn't work out so well for them, and maybe this Hummer purchase signals a switch in fortunes, too. The United States will fund China's debt at a high rate of interest. We'll flood their market with plastic toys. We'll save more than we consume.
If only we could offload the rest of GM. In the meantime, taxpayers are now the majority owners, which infuriates Republicans, as if it were President Obama's secret dream to run Buick.
There are a lot of reasons to be angry. How can Washington put back together again what Uncle Sam let fall apart? For years, politicians protected Detroit, both labor and management, going along with a 30-hour workweek and refusing to ask it to approach the fuel efficiency of imports.
As an unwilling shareholder, let me say I would rather have my stake in the hands of ex-Wall Street guys at Treasury than any of the boneheaded executives in the Motor City.
Rather than let GM go into liquidation, Obama's auto task force has forced the company to shed brands and debt, get concessions from the union, close factories and dealerships, and go into a controlled tailspin of Chapter 11.
This is much tougher medicine than anyone dreamed government could get them to take. Republicans should be thrilled.
Any auto executive who's honest must wish the tough love had come sooner. In 1980, a report to Congress warned that the domestic auto industry faced ruin from imports, and the lawmakers gave GM and other automakers millions to come up with a new generation of vehicles.
Instead, GM proceeded to kill the electric car. Its vice chairman, Bob Lutz, called global warming a "total crock" and predicted gas always would be cheap. The company began binge-producing giant SUVs, culminating in its purchase of the Hummer brand in 1999, when the geniuses in Detroit sniffed out a fantasy masculinity market - men who dreamed they were wearing camouflage instead of Dockers, and dodging sniper fire in Iraq rather than driving to the 7-Eleven for a quart of milk.
Picture private enterprise without government involvement at a conference table. A show of hands, please, in favor of a vehicle that under ideal conditions will get 10 miles per gallon. The ayes had it.
Congress in general and Republicans in particular are much more upset about what the auto executives did to cars than what the bankers did to our financial system. They don't ridicule the heads of Bank of America or Citigroup, reserving their scorn for President Goodwrench's offering floor mats and rust-proofing and some bureaucrat fretting over moonroofs.
I understand the feeling. No one ever loved a credit default swap the way he loved his first car. My parents used to take us the long way around to Sunday Mass so we could spend more time in our new Chevy. And we piled into the back seat as if we were going on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland.
By the late '70s, my all-American parents were visiting "foreign" dealerships in search of a car with easy-to-clasp seat belts, efficient mileage, and a cup holder. They bought a VW station wagon. A short time after GM lost them, it lost America.
We would love to come back. My '96 Honda isn't going to last forever. Like my parents, I'm happy to buy American, even if it's made by a bureaucrat.