Conservative ideologues looking to punish workers and the American middle class for auto industry failures are driven by an authoritarian worldview George Lakoff calls the strict parent model.
Senate Republicans see their opposition to the rescue of Detroit as whipping the children. They are not that different from the failed father who thinks his follies can be overcome by beating the wife and kids. Politically, they seek to avoid responsibility for the nation’s economic woes. It’s not the strict authority who’s at fault. It’s the misbehaving children. Conservatives think they must take away the keys to the car.
Did we all follow that one? Failing to funnel billions to a failing business is a form of authoritarian punishment. As an alternative, we’re offered the proposition that we “want affordable, safe, fuel-efficient, environmentally sound cars built by committed workers who are rewarded for undertaking this task on our behalf.” I think it’s a lot more revealing to contemplate the sort of mindset that insists on seeing every economic outcome as a political “reward” or “punishment.”
This whole familial frame seems to amount to an inverted Gospel of Wealth: Where the 19th century claimed that financial success was a reflection of moral worth, the function of public policy in the 21st century will be to create that symmetry. The only question is whether workers in a particular industry are naughty children who need to be sent to the corner for a time-out, or well-behaved children who should get a gold sticker for effort. This is, as I hope goes without saying, a pretty authoritarian frame on either side. It also seems like a manifestly awful way to make economic policy choices. Barring some marvelous Lebnizian coincidence, the answers to questions about the moral desert of workers in particular sectors are unlikely to consistently match the answers to quesitons about what’s in the long-term interest of the economy as a whole.