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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Ramifications of German Saabs

General Motors' recent decision to produce Saabs in Germany rather than in Sweden raises a host of interesting issues:
  1. Do consumers care where cars are produced? GM, citing American-made BMW and Mercedes SUVs, doesn't think so. Saab lovers might be different, except that those (like yours truly) who really loved Saabs -- and thus might have cared -- abandoned the car after GM bought the company and changed the Saab's feel.
  2. It is an example of the kind of competition among states to attract or retain business that has gone on in the U.S. since the interstate mobility of capital increased around the 1850s -- but now it occurs on an international scale. In this case, Sweden's offer to improve transportation between the Saab facility and the local port "drew cries of foul from German officials," the New York Times reports. This kind of promotional competition is the flip side of the "race to the bottom" or "competition in laxity" that has shaped regulation by the American states since the mid-nineteenth century.
  3. It also offers a good example of the way that the ability to shift production among plants -- first gained in the wave of horizontal consolidations that culminated in the Great Merger Movement at the turn of the 20th century -- can alter the balance of power between labor and capital, if labor is not also organized on a scale that matches that of capital. In this instance, multinational GM negotiated with nationally based unions in Germany and Sweden. According to the Times, "[a] crucial ingredient [in GM's decision] was a new job contract [in the German plant] that reduced annual wage increases, or in some cases froze wages, and made labor rules more flexible." The German union "also agreed on a plan to reduce the work force by 9,500 by the end of 2007."
Mark Landler, "G.M. Picks Germany, Not Sweden, as Home of New Saabs," New York Times (natl. ed.,) 3/5/05, B3.

Process vs. social conservatives

I'm certainly not the first one to notice that the Republican position on the proper role of government these days seems rather contradictory. An article in the Times this morning on the Schiavo story, however, introduces an illuminating distinction. There is no "Republican position" as such -- instead, Republicans are divided between "social conservatives" and "process conservatives" (quoting David Davenport of the Hoover Institute). For social conservatives, social issues trump concerns about the allocation of power within the fractured American political structure, while the priorities of process conservatives are exactly the opposite.
Adam Nagourney, "G.O.P. Right Is Splintered On Schiavo Intervention," New York Times (natl. ed.), 3/23/05, A14.
"Social" works in the Schiavo case, but a broader term is needed to encompass those conservatives for whom certain economic issues (e.g., deregulation) also trump concerns about federalism or separation of powers.

More on the "diversity of time"

It is difficult to understand how people dealt with time on a daily basis before standard time zones were created in the early 1880s.

Case in point: Williams's New-York Annual Register for the year 1834 includes "A TABLE FOR THE EQUATION OF TIME For Regulating Clocks and Watches for the year 1834" (p. 21). The column headings are the months of the calendar, and the row headings are the alternate days of the month (1, 3, 5, etc.). Each cell gives a number of minutes and seconds and either "fast" or "slo." At the bottom of the table appears the following explanation:
How to Set a Clock or Watch by the above Table. -- EXAMPLE. -- January 1st, I find by looking into the table, that the Clock to be right must be 3 minutes and 49 seconds faster than the Sun-dial : therefore, I set it so much faster. And so of the rest. -- Twelve o'clock is the best time to a set a Clock or Watch by a Sun-dial.

NOTE. -- A Sun-dial shows Solar or Apparent Time, but a Clock, &c. should be set to Mean or Equal Time, as the Table directs.

So clocks had to be adjusted every other day to be "right," that is, set to Mean Time; and, although it doesn't say so, one has to assume that this table was accurate only for the longitude of New York City.