Brother, can you spare $50 billion?

The auto industry asks Washington for a little help. But don't call it a bailout!

Published September 9, 2008 1:49PM (EDT)

Just curious -- would $50 billion in low-cost loans, provided by the U.S. government to the American automobile industry, constitute an example of "industrial policy?"

After decades of lobbying against any increase in fuel economy standards, Detroit's Big Three are now begging for help from Congress, reports the Wall Street Journal, so the industry can move ahead with plans to build fuel efficient cars. The money, says Ford CEO Alan Mulally, would be used to retool SUV and pickup truck assembly facilities so Ford "can build at least six cars that Ford now builds and sells in Europe."

But whatever you do, don't call it a bailout, this rescue plan for an industry hemorrhaging billions of dollars a quarter, an industry that failed so abysmally at preparing itself for an obvious future of high energy prices.

"I absolutely don't think it's a bailout," Mr. Mulally said. "I think it will be a loan at lower interest rates with the caveat to pay it back. It is written for $25 billion but there are a lot of people who believe that more would help speed the transition," he said.

Sure. Let's not call it a bailout. Let's call it targeted government assistance for a strategic industry. The kind of thing U.S. trade negotiators are always trying to stop poorer, developing nations from doing, as they attempt to bootstrap their own economies forward.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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