Impressions of “Sixty to Zero: An Inside Look at the Collapse of General Motors–and the Detroit Auto Industry,” by Alex Taylor III

sixty_to_zero_md

To understand what went wrong in the American auto industry, one book and four videos will get you a long way

Who killed Vincent Chin? is narrowly a story of racism and murder, but broadly its a depiction of the unionized, schlerotic, and dead-end workforce that Detroit had bred even by the early 1980s. Who killed the electric car? veers toward conspiracy at times, but is really a story of the incompetence of the management and workers — of GM and the AW — when it came to adopting new technology.

This theme of incompetence is emphasized by Sixty to Zero. It’s written by what is known as a “friendly” or “captive” journalist, basically an a shill paid in access by the industry and in dollars by a periodical. There are plenty of shills across many industries, and this shill’s (Alex Taylor’s) Zhou Enlai-level debasement before the great and powerful allowed him much greater access to Detroit management than he would have otherwise had.

No individual leader, no specific reform initiative, seems that bad in retrospect. But they all were either defensive (reacting to change instead of making it), treating changing economic-political conditions (the market share popularity of small cars, and the political popularity of efficient cars) as irritants to be managed rather than as opportunities to drive profits in other areas.

The Tesla has a non-unionized workforce, outsells comparably priced BMW and Mercedes models, and has received political largess from both political parties. This more than a decade after GM’s bewildering attempt with the EV1. Instead of building up a business and reaping political benefits, GM’s bad management and political unpopularity led it into bankruptcy and now being shut out of the electric vehicle luxury market.

The importance on internal corporate politics, and the inability to recognize new markets, is not unique to GM or the American auto industry. Even generally lauditory books such as histories of Google, Apple, and IBM reveal these issues below the surface. But in GM, you had a company so captured by these problems that progress required waiting for the company ( and union) to burn down financial and regulatory until bankruptcy, to allow new competitors to be born.

Without the context of the films and videos Sixty to Zero is a list of names, dates, and personalities. But Sixty provides a context for these films and videos, a skeleton for the flesh, a reason for America’s auto industry’s descent into the ashes and (in Silicon Valley) a promise of rebirth.

I read Sixth to Zero in the Nook edition. You can read an excerpt at NPR.

What should a Political Science PhD student do? Should she blog?

tdaxp’s Note: Once in a while I use the platform of this blog to give personal advise. Recently a blogger, who also comments at Duck of Minerva, asked if blogging was a sensible choice in today’s world. This post is an attempt to answer that question.

Over at Duck of Minerva, Anita Kellogg also asked recently if she should blog while preparing for a career in academic International Relations. The full text of her question, posted at Duck of Minerva after the defenestration of Brian Rathburn, was:

I am an IR scholar who in the last couple of weeks decided to try blogging in earnest as a counterbalance to the isolation of dissertation writing. When I read Brian’s post yesterday, I definitely started to have second thoughts. I know I will make mistakes. I am still trying to find my voice and focus. I would like to write about politics more broadly, but should I only write about issues where my qualifications are stronger? Even if I stick to IR, do the potential negatives for job searches in the future outweigh the more immediate benefits now? I am really unsure of my answers to these questions at present

The short answer is:

Drop out of International Relations immediately

The long answer is below…

But first, some context…

Actually, Anita’s choice whether or not to blog first depends on why she is in the academic ghetto.

wages_employment_majors_humanities_ghetto_md

As I’ve said many times, there are four types of people in that land of few jobs and low wags:

1. Pimps who run the racket
2. Losers who are exploited by the pimps
3. Escapees who are preparing to leave
4. Disaster tourists who get a kick out of the whole thing

Average salaries for political science PhDs are not pretty, implying that successfully pimping (teaching at a research-one university) with that degree is as unlikely as ascending to the top of the Black Gangsta Disciples.

salary_by_phd_md

Assuming that Anita is not actively trying to leave Political Science, that leaves being a Loser or a Disaster tourists. Disaster tourists come in three shades

1. Those with income from parents such that they do not need to work to support themselves
2. Those with income from spouses such that they do not need to work to support themselves
3. Those with sufficient personal capital (financial, skill-based, etc) that the years in graduate school can be seen as an extended “finding yourself” vacation

Assuming she’s not a disaster tourist, the best advise for Anita is to run.

godleftdetroit-575

But let’s assume that Anita’s goal is to be a pimp — to land a job at a research-one university — and she doesn’t mind that she will be exploiting others to do so. (The countless students who will take on student loans, work hard for years, and leave with few jobs and low wages). Then the answer is still obvious

Don’t blog if you need a job in the humanities ghetto

The reason is that there are two sorts of job markets

1. Job markets where few individuals have veto power over hiring
2. Job markets where many individuals have veto power over hiring

In the first kind of job market, an individual needs to impress a superior in some many: ideological bias, pleasant personality, research skill, whatever. While hiring here in such an environment is idiosyncratic and arbitrary, it’s attack surface area is relatively small. Only one individual must be assuaged, meaning at worst you’re dealing with the idiosyncratic and arbitrary prejudices of one person. One might, however, get a job because one’s odd beliefs somehow flatter the hiring manager.

The second kind of job market describes political science, as well as the rest of the humanities ghetto. A hiring committee is more idiosyncratic and arbitrary than a hiring manager, because in a hiring committee the disqualifying attributes are the sum (set union) of the disqualifying attributes as decided by all of the hiring committee members. The hiring committee process, further, is set up to avoid anyone receiving a job because one’s beliefs somehow flatter a specific member.

You can think of the possibility of not getting a job as a result of an idiosyncratic bias as a series of draws. One hiring manager means one draw per thing associated with you. Two means two draws. And so on.

To use Anita as an example, recently on her blog she’s gone out of her way to attack (or discuss) conservatives, a Christian evangelist (on the subject of charity) anti-vaccination activists (who, admittedly, are nutcases — though some have PhDs), a sitting Senator (who I’ve also attacked), public radio (albeit humorously), and St. Thomas Aquinas (albeit indirectly).

The possibility of being interviewed by a conservative, or an anti-vaccine nut, or a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas is relatively small. But the more members of the committee, the greater the chance. The more posts you have written, the greater the chance.

The only students in the humanities ghetto I know of, whose careers were helped by blogging, were escapees leaving the ghetto.

If you want to blog, run.

Who wants to live in the ghetto?

Who wants to live in the ghetto?

Four kinds of people
1. Pimps (they run it)
2. Losers (they don’t know any better)
3. Disaster tourists (it’s kind of fun to frolic amid decaying dreams)
4. Escapees (they are there until they aren’t).

pimp hat4

Those are the same types of people in the ghettos of academia.

Consider this in the context of the defenestration of Brian Rathburn. After writing (and deleting) a since-reconstructed post, Brian issued a self-criticism, and then a second-self-criticism that doubled as a resignation from Daniel Nexon‘s group-blog, Duck of Minerva.

Over at American Power, Donald Douglas reacted thusly:

Academe nowadays (more than ever) is the egg-shells realm of the perpetually aggrieved. Who wants to be around it? I mean seriously. You can’t speak your mind. And you especially can’t speak your mind if you’re a man. There’s nothing you dare say that won’t be spun into something so objectionable by the leftist thought police that you won’t be on your knees begging for absolution, if not your job. It’s just depressing. Or, it’s depressing if you fall for that sh*t.

As a conservative Donald is particular aggravated by the casual attacks on conservative that are typical in the ghettos of academia, but ultimately this view is a provincial as that of a ho in the ghettos of Detroit, who becomes embittered against the casual misogyny of pimps. The casual and insular attacks against the weak is not the central problem, it’s a symptom of the problem.

The real problem is the ghetto.

The ghettos of Detroit, and the ghettos of academia, are places of low-employment and low-wages. Only the formal education, race, and job title change. But a professor at in the academic ghetto is a petty tyrant exploiting losers, servicing tourists, and indifferent to escapes as surely as is a manager of & security contractor for sex workers in the City of Detroit.

If you are young and thinking of entering the humanities ghetto — don’t.

Practice normal science.

Or at least least a useful skill.

And run.

Pimp Gets Bitch-Slapped

Watching a pimp get bitch-slapped can be funny. But watching that pimp cry for forgiveness afterwards can be pretty upsetting to watch.

I’ve said before the academic ghetto (composed of the humanities, International Relations, and other old boys networks) is a place of low-employment and low-wages. There are four types of people in the academic ghetto:

1. Pimps (professors at research universities) who run the game
2. Escapees (graduates who leave the field but use their skills) who are about to get out
3. Losers, like non-tenture track teachers, those sucked into the system until their time, youth, and money desert them, and
4. Disaster tourists, who get a thrill out of the place

Pimps are in a zero-sum competition with each other. For one pimp’s old boy network to thrive, another has to fall. Thus, the ghetto is a place of violence, where pimps will attack each other for seeming ridiculous reasons. But being in a zero, the reason isn’t ridiculous: it’s because taking down someone else is the only way for your own friends to be successful.

An example of this was at The Duck of Minerva, a blog dedicated to celebrating one alley in the academic ghetto (International Relations). A humorous post on identifying and infiltrating old boys networks by a professor at a research university, Brian Rathburn, entitled “Intellectual Jailbait: Networking at APSA” was taken down, all comments on that post were deleted ,Brian was forced to issue a self-criticism, Brian’s post became a non-entity (substantively replaced by Steve Saideman‘s post “Networking is Hard Work“), and two thinly veiled attacks on Brian were posted, (Daniel Nexon‘s “Sexual Harassment in Political Science and International Studies and Laura Sjoberg‘s Let’s talk about sex). .

But it was Brian’s post, his self-criticism, which was hurtful and upsetting. Because while I view pimps fronting each other as a natural part of life in the ghetto — and in my experience, the academic ghetto is so intellectually and and self-referential that it’s the perfect breeding ground for mob outrage — its obvious that Brian is a transgressive thinker who has learned the art of strategic cowardice. This is doubtless necessary for someone in the humanities ghetto — an individual capable of saying his own thoughts in International Relations is in a situation slightly less precarious than a comedian in North Korea — but it’s still upsetting, painful, and sickening to watch.

If you are young and thinking of entering the humanities ghetto — don’t. If you’re already there — run.