Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Humvee Purchased by Chinese Company

The irony of this deal cannot be overstated. One of the flagships of American industry has sold the Humvee unit to a Chinese firm - perhaps one of the institutions Chairman Mao founded inland (in Sichuan) to defend against invasion of the coasts by us capitalist swine.

I'm tempted to take a drive by the Hummer dealership in San Jose that I used to run by in 2003 when they were at their zenith. During the Iraq War, when owning one of these no-need-to-be-on-a-civilian-highway behemoths was considered an expression of patriotism, my own love for my country was questioned more than once when I expressed my bewilderment that anyone would want one. I prefer Jack in the Box to MREs too (what a commie!). At bottom the question is: how is it unpatriotic or unconservative to reject burning money for show?

I'm sure there are those on the "Obama is the gay socialist Antichrist" first-grade rhetorical fringe (you know, the ones currently discrediting conservatism in the eyes of moderate Americans) who will insist that that this is really part of Obama's plot to transfer America's military might to a communist nation. In truth I haven't even gone looking on the web, but I'm sure they're out there, and as with everything, my answer is: show me your evidence and I'll listen. It's worth pointing out that it's hard to see how, without government help, this same sale wouldn't have happened months earlier. One complaint I don't have about China is that their citizens and government actually know how to save money, (revolutionary! Americans should learn about this "financial discipline"!) although one negative outcome of that is that our government has been financed by theirs for the last five years.

David Brooks has an excellent piece detailing the weaknesses of the Obama rescue of GM, and how the prop-up is really a political forced move which leaves the already curiously government-like bureaucracy and culture of GM largely intact. What Brooks is talking about is customer interaction surface, and GM's lack thereof. To go abstract for a second, this is why, in biology, cells are small - the bigger a cell gets, the lower its surface area-to-volume ratio, and a cell that can't sense and exchange materials with the outside world is a dead cell. Companies' ability to react to the marketplace is directly related to their customer interaction surface. More generally, the more people you have that don't spend part of their day thinking about what goes on outside your company but that is relevant to the business, the harder it will be for you to compete over the long haul. A large part of Brooks's point is that GM is the poster child of government-like big-business bureaucracy, and this is what has brought it to where it is, and it's hard to see how the Obama plan will make it less big-government like. And it's this is exactly why companies with poor customer interaction surface go bust; success as a contributor in such a place has everything to do with satisfying inbred byzantine legacy processes and nothing to do with the customer (until the company fails; then you realize that all along, it had everything to do with the customer). GM's culture (and economic destiny) means that keeping GM on life support can only be a political move, and it's not doing American capitalism any favors.

So what do you do if you work at such a place? You focus on screwing your internal competitors, ignoring the customer, and forgetting that there's any external competition to speak of. Have you worked at a Fortune 500 company? Then you know what I'm talking about. (After watching his boss steal equipment from another division, Dilbert asked him when they would start thinking about screwing their competitors.) This is the same principle that results in the death of ideologies and moribund states, like the Ming Dynasty calling its treasure ships back, or Moctezuma's men not understanding (at first) that the Spaniards weren't there to politely participate in one of their "show-wars", or Roman generals worrying more about other Roman generals with similar designs on the imperial throne, instead of my ancestors who were busy massing at the borders to sack this curiously named Eternal City. And where are the Ming or the Aztecs or the Roman Empire today? And this is just as true of every silly theory or ideology that rejects the basic evidence of the outside world to preserve its purity and in the process disappears up its own ass (semiotics, intelligent design, Islamic legal "scholarship" and Marxism, for just a few examples). A company that pays more attention to its customers and competition is just like these - or, in a final analogy, like a whale with no eyes and ears. Who cares how well it controls its own metabolism if it's ignoring that sharks that are eating it?

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Ultimately the sale of a GM division to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company is a capitalist transaction, although we do have to ask ourselves if we want the world's other superpower buying such iconic brands. Would we have allowed a consumer division of McDonnel-Douglas to be bought by the USSR twenty years ago? Why should we allow a Chinese firm to buy them today?) This is especially concerning when the country in question has a policy of trying to steal our military technology anyway, taking this ongoing espionage trial as an example. Incidentally, Republicans, this is a fantastic opportunity to start stepping up and reclaiming one of the few remaining Republican policy monopolies - national security. Reawakened Americans will be glad to have China a bigger part of our foreign policy. In the meantime enjoy Hummer's new ad campaign, courtesy Notions Capital.


ThurstonBT said...

Per your "American Military Contractor Purchased by Chinese Company" -- I call to your attention the following text in your referenced article

The sale of the Hummer brand to a Chinese company will not impact the production of U.S. military vehicles. Military Humvees are produced by a different company, privately held AM General, based in South Bend, Ind.

In so far as I am able to determine the sale of the Hummer brand (ugly SUVs) has nothing to do with the ownership of AM General, the manufacturer of the HMMWV (used extensively by the US military). Given this fact I claim that the premise of your article, "[o]ne of the flagships of American industry has sold what was at one time exclusively a military vehicle division to a Chinese firm", is thus demonstrated to be totally fallacious.

Let me repeat that for emphasis: totally fallacious. I call on you to print a retraction.

Thomas Paine Jr. said...

The title of the article is deliberately provocative. China is a growing power that American conservatives are dangerously ignoring, and if this purchase wakes people up (even if they're just buying ugly SUVs) then it will have a silver lining.

ThurstonBT said...

Since when does "deliberately provocative" mean a misstatement (deliberate?) of the facts? Please explain to me why I should read a blogger who, without contrition, plays it fast & loose with the facts? Please explain how inattention to facts furthers the your stated goal of "[e]mphasizing the rational and moral basis of democracy and free markets"?

Thomas Paine Jr. said...

I appredciate your attention to detail and will change the title and content of the article to reflect this.