Another Bail Out of "Big Rust Belt"

For the lack of a better term, I will call large, old-line union dominated companies "Big Rust Belt."  These are companies that tend to have strong unions and that have compensation packages most new companies eschew (e.g. defined benefit rather than defined contribution pensions).  These companies tend to be experienced rent-seekers, and usually are beneficiaries of protectionist practices.  I generally lump the big 3 auto makers (and much of their supply chain) and integrated steel manufacturers in this description.  Other industries, like traditional airlines (e.g. United but not Southwest) also fit in this description.

Already over the past several years, Big Rust Belt has been getting bailouts of their defined-benefit pension plans.  Going forward, Big Rust Belt is looking for the government to bail them out of their health care obligations as well.  Big Rust Belt began offering health benefits as part of their compensation packages in WWII, when government wage freezes made it difficult to compete for labor, and offering health benefits was a way to evade the wage laws.  Health benefits grew in popularity at a time when it seemed reasonable that your employer might still be alive and employing you forty years from now, and because Congress and the IRS made these plans tax-preferred over cash compensation.  Short-sited corporate executives began offering retirement health care in labor negotiations as a way to reduce cash wage increases, on the theory that cash wages hurt the bottom line now while retiree benefits hit the bottom line, well, on someone else's watch.

Now these health benefits are an albatross around these corporations' collective necks.  Not only are they bankrupting them, but smaller companies who were not so dumb as to make these promises to their employees are out-competing them. 

So Big Rust Belt wants at least three things:

  • It wants the government to force its smaller competitors to have to offer the same health insurance it was dumb enough to promise.
  • It wants the government to take on a portion of its medical obligations, particularly for retirees
  • It wants to government to by law limit the procedures it has to pay for (i.e. ration care), something they have been unable to do in their union negotiations.

And, surprise surprise, given that Big Rust Belt is even better at rent-seeking than it is in running its core businesses, state and federal governments look ready to deliver on all of these.  Each of these is a feature of the governator's new plan, and all are features of various Hillarycare models discussed by Democrats in Congress.  So no one should be surprised when GM CEO Robert Lutz says:

he expects the new Democratic-controlled Congress will be more understanding on health care issues

"More understanding" means "more ready to bail Lutz and GM out of there business problems."  And remember that for Big Rust Belt, universal health care does not mean "great, now everyone can have health care";  it means "great, now we don't have to bother competing with any companies who are smarter about how they have compensated their employees."

Update:  More Big Rust Belt rent-seeking here.