At least two of America's biggest automakers are in deep financial trouble and they're looking to the Federal government for help (read: bailout). But they aren't going for one big check, they're looking for lots of different aid plans, ranging from support for health-care costs and pensions to subsidies for alternative-fuel vehicles.
Here's the rub: Government's going to get involved, and will likely spend billions of dollars in bailouts, subsidies, protections, and loan guarantees. But with fewer than 300 million people living in this country, every billion dollars in government spending is roughly equal to $3-$4, or about the cost of a meal. So when we find out that bailing out the automakers' pension plans could cost $20 billion, that's like saying it'll take a week's worth of food out of everyone's pockets.
We can't simply abandon the employees who were supposed to benefit; they made reasonable choices to accept their employers' promises of retirement security, and probably offset some of their own personal retirement savings as a result. But if government just rushes in to cover everything, they're likely to end up over-regulating and stifling the healthy, innovative, and entrepreneurial businesses that could create the wealth we need to solve the problems. Sadly, automakers aren't the only firms failing catastrophically to plan for the future. Bad management isn't without real consequences.