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Dear banks: Thanks for making the auto industry look good

Dear AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America and everyone else …

You're probably wondering why you're getting a letter from North America's biggest auto manufacturers. Are we just writing to pile on a little more abuse? It's a fair concern; after all, since 2008 you've taken a lot of heat. The public has a dim view of your morals. They think you give yourselves big bonuses while throwing working people out into the street.

For instance, last September the Wall Street Journal reported that AIG CEO Robert Benmosche had compared the act of criticizing executives for getting bonuses to Jim Crow lynchings. It was, he said, "intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that – sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

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Well, brace yourselves. Motor City has something to say.

THANK YOU.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Thank you, infinity.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Confused? Isn't that just like an investment banker? Allow us to elaborate. In 2008, things looked grim for North American car companies. High fuel prices had hurt sales, especially SUVs, and we'd failed to be innovative. We had dropped the ball on hybrid cars and we had enormous pension fund obligations we couldn't afford. Meanwhile, European and Asian car companies were kicking us around. We were in what financial experts would call, "Oh my God, we're all gonna die!" mode, heading to financial ruin.

But then, in the fall of 2008, you created the worst economic and financial disaster since the Great Depression (to be fair you'd been working on it for years). The sub-prime mortgage crisis and other financial boondoggles hit and the world stood on the verge of catastrophe. Governments had two choices: allow the economies to self-immolate and then recycle the remnants or bail out the people who caused the crisis. Guess which one they chose?

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That's right. Bailout. The United States government opted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and bought $700-billion (U.S.) worth of "troubled assets." Here's why we're grateful. Imagine there was no financial meltdown. Imagine us – North America's auto sector – going to the federal governments in Canada and the United States and saying, "Look, we've made a few boo-boos and now some of our assets are troubled and well, we'd like you to bail out the automotive sector."

They would have laughed us out of existence.

But thanks to the worldwide economic and financial tsunami you unleashed, bailing out the automotive sector seemed noble. I mean, governments were giving money to you, the people who caused the crisis, so why not give people who actually make something (like cars) some money, too? In 2009, we scooted into line while they were handing out the TARP money and got our share of taxpayer cash. In America, GM and Chrysler got $80-billion American greenbacks. In Canada, we got $13.7-billion loonies. Ford opted out (that's so Ford). We were saved – saved by your avarice and greed.

And now? You're still making us look good. Our sector has become more innovative and efficient. We are making better cars and employing people. We're profitable and we're paying back the money we took. In December, the Centre for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Mich., released the findings of a study that shows the bailout of the automotive industry saved 2.6 million jobs in 2009 and 1.5 million in 2010 and $105.3-billion (U.S.) in tax revenue. Reuters reported that Sean McAlinden, the centre's chief economist, maintains, "this peacetime intervention in the private sector by the U.S. government will be viewed as one of the most successful interventions in U.S. economic history."

Did you hear that? They're talking about us! The American auto industry! "One of the most successful interventions in U.S. economic history!"

And what are you doing? Exactly what you did before the economic collapse. Giving your executives obscene bonuses, fighting regulation, and running up speculative debt. You're saying, "Thanks U.S. Treasury, we'll see you in 60 years." Whenever anyone starts asking us about that money we took, we point to you guys and they forget all about it.

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So thank you, wolves of Wall Street. Thank you for creating the economic crisis that allowed us to get bailout money. Thank you for staying true to your lack of moral beliefs.

In other words, thank you for making the North American automotive sector look good.

Sincerely,

Motor City

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More

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