GM is alive, Patriot Coal is dead

GM is alive, Patriot Coal is dead

August 15, 2012
Originally published in The Washington Examiner

President Obama's supporters have made a bumper sticker -- literally -- out of the talking point "Bin Laden's Dead. General Motors is Alive." This is to promote his economic philosophy that government intervention creates prosperity.

Of course, the U.S. auto industry would still exist had Obama not circumvented traditional, managed bankruptcy proceedings, but then he could not have handed hundreds of millions of dollars to his union supporters. Even GM likely would be around, but with a healthier structure that addressed the problems which still remain fatal flaws in the company.

But in discussing Obama's economic philosophy of state-managed capitalism, or industrial policy, something important has been lost amid talk of "picking winners and losers." In addition to choosing "winners" among struggling but politically favored enterprises, he has also deliberately targeted politically disfavored but viable businesses for extinction -- "picking losers." These include industries critical to our economy and national security.

Obama famously said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board, "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket," toward the specific end that he would "bankrupt" coal.

This was the third leg of Obama's "clean energy economy" stool, a rebranding derived from work by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg on selling the climate agenda on a reluctant electorate. The first two legs were the creation of Potemkin Industries and subsidizing them. As Obama also put it in three major addresses, this create-prop-up-eliminate competition strategy would "finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy," after more than a century of trying. (Solyndra later made this theory famous.)

When Obama's "cap-and-trade" bill died, he continued his assault on coal through rules, which he described as "other ways to skin that cat" the day after the 2010 elections. These rules were neither direct nor timely enough to save Solyndra and others from bin Laden's fate, but they have had a great impact, already causing several thousand layoffs to be announced in Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Tens of thousands more are expected, and share prices in domestic coal companies naturally have tumbled.

In mid-July, Patriot Coal became the first to declare bankruptcy. There was no White House rush to intervene and save this company. These jobs had been targeted for death, a rare example of Obama's policies working as promised.

Expect more of this, because it is intentional. It is the other side of Obama's interventionism, as lauded on bumper stickers. It has been decided, by the political Left, as an outcome that must be secured. The same president who fetishizes mass transportation and demeans automobility also despises abundant energy. Why? Because both of these targets of his ire liberate you from him. As George Will wrote, liberals love trains because freedom of movement, like abundant energy, is "subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends [and] ... encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make."

Abundant, reliable energy drives our freedom. Therefore GM is alive, increasingly directed to producing small and electric-powered vehicles the public does not want, but which the statists tolerate. Meanwhile, Patriot Coal is dead. And President Obama, if allowed to continue, has promised to make them just the first casualty of his war on abundant energy.