“We Own GM” and Other Rhetorical Illusions

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8 Responses

  1. That was very good: informative and enlightening…thanks.

  2. A.J. Sutter says:

    You’re right in a literal sense. But does the “taxpayer” rhetoric serve some reasonable political purpose?

    In contexts like this one, “taxpayer” isn’t a neutral word anymore — its connotations have been conditioned by repeated use in contexts suggesting that “government” or a third party is overreaching. As such, it’s kind of a code word suggesting that citizens should pay more attention to what the government (usually, the executive branch) is doing, and to what benefits will result from those actions.

    I could be misreading the public mood, but I doubt that people literally expect that they’ll be getting a personal dividend from GM, passed through by the Feds. Or that they’ll be sent proxy materials for shareholder votes. But I do think most people expect that the government represents them in some way, that it acts on behalf of the American people and therefore has an obligation to act responsibly. To the extent “taxpayer” is associated with those expectations, and results in greater scrutiny of the deal by more citizens, then I’m not sure the usage is so objectionable, even if not technically accurate. In this it’s different from other types of politically-motivated doublespeak, which are designed to discourage people from thinking about what’s going on.

    Personally I agree that the perspective offered by a phrase like “China and the US taxpayer” is an instructive one, but it’s understandable why the Administration isn’t barking too loudly about that. If they were, don’t you think there would be more of an outcry to let GM die? Where would that leave the workers of GM and GM’s suppliers, and their families? Not doing the GM deal isn’t going to stop us from borrowing from China, in any case.

  3. There’s another problem: We shouldn’t confuse “taxpayers” with “the government”, they’re distinct entities. Looking at the head of treasury, maybe even disjoint…

  4. “GM is getting funding as federal aid. It is an ailing business seen as important to US national economic interests. The funding is not an investment, no reader of this post has any ownership in it, and none should have any expectation of any return on investment. At best, the funding will enable GM to right itself. No one should expect anything more.”

    So when President Obama says: “Understand we’re making these investments not because I want to spend the American people’s tax dollars, but because I want to protect them”

    …is he misleading us, just clueless as to the ways of business or talking down to those of us who didn’t go to Harvard Law

  5. Don Gwinn says:

    In the real world, if you’re the one on the hook to take the loss when it fails, you own it de facto.

  6. TRE says:

    Unfortunately the profits (heh) will be enjoyed by others Don. Its more like we are silent partners with the mafia.

  7. Lia says:

    Great post Prof. Cunningham.