Why Socialists Don't Build Good Cars

Today in the Wall Street Journal, a former Socialist Car Czar explains how the Romanian government failed repeatedly to build a drivable car. "I knew nothing about manufacturing cars, but neither did anyone else among Ceausescu's top men," Ion Mihai Pacepa admits. But certainly, in the country that mastered the art of the assembly line, we must have somebody extraordinarily experienced running this auto bailout, right? Introducing Brian Deese:

Brian Deese [is] a not-quite graduate of Yale Law School who had never set foot in an automotive assembly plant until he took on his nearly unseen role in remaking the American automotive industry.

Oh dear.


Fortunately for us, Deese is an apparent wunderkind (drawing glowing praise from Lawrence Summers) who practically saved Chrysler with a memo about the hidden costs of its potential liquidation. Even more fortunate for us, we didn't elect Ceausescu in November. Pacepa explains how Romania went about building its first car: they bought some dying Renaults for cheap, and gutted the radio, mirrors and heating -- "perfect for the idiots," as their dictator liked to say. "The [car] was a nightmare," Pacepa concludes.

I'm sure it was, and Ceausescu was a horrid person, but I'm not sure this has a lot to do with General Motors. The United States's government isn't launching an internatinoal promotional stunt. As my colleague Megan McArdle just wrote: "jobs are the entire rationale for the government intervention." Comparing the bailout to Romania (or to the decades-long nationalization of Jaguar cars in England) would make a lot more sense if Obama were a power hungry autophile interested in a decades-long nationalization.

Pacepa's final point is: "I hope that the U.S. administration, Congress and the American voters will take a closer look at history and prevent our automotive industry from following down the Dacia, Oltcit or Jaguar path." I don't mean to be dense, but I don't understand what Pacepa could be talking about. Obama will not be gutting safety features from Chevy Tahoes. He won't be micromanaging the launch of new international models. I'd really like to believe government officials who say "the government will not interfere with or exert control of day to day company operations," if for no other reason that the young guy leading the bailout is still an admitted newbie when it comes to the details of car products.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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