An Ethnographer Says Crazy Things

Via a PR email, I came across the following crazy paragraphs from an ethnographer. I won’t include the name of the ethnographer, as I’m convinced he has been badly misrepresented — that or he is cuckoo.

____________, an ethnographer who spent the last year inside U.S. and Italian auto plants, says the collapse of the Big Three automakers would halt the advance of another, arguably more important industry: the auto-parts suppliers. The supply workforce is roughly three times the size of the vehicle-assembly workforce, and more on the cutting-edge of innovation.

“Halt” seems strong. I worry that some of my comrades in the anti-bailout camp aren’t appreciating the seriousness of a collapse of the Big Three: this is a sector that generates a lot of tax revenue, and placing severe pressure on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is a legitimate issue, etc. I don’t mean to dismiss these concerns out of hand. Also, via John Robb’s Twitter feed, I found this eerie pronouncement:

GM is a integral part of the financial community. It’s a big financier. Its failure would also ignite another CDS meltdown (like Lehman)

Let’s hope this isn’t true. My preference, at the moment, is for some kind of prepackaged bankruptcy, though I need to think this over.

But surely innovative auto-parts suppliers will continue to supply transplants and the leaner domestic firms that would emerge from bankruptcy, and one assumes that they’d export more. Back to the press release:

“The discussion needs to shift from the automakers to the suppliers. Invention is no longer a one-man show, and the demise of the Big Three would stifle the innovation of American suppliers, leaving them exposed to competition from part-makers in the low-wage world.”

Does this make any sense? You have to assume that these suppliers are already exposed to competition — that or the Big Three are overpaying for parts as a matter of policy, which leads one to think that we shouldn’t be bailing out the Big Three.

“Cars improve because of supply-side innovation, with lots of workers thinking about their little bailiwick, like light-weight latches, for example. It’s not small potatoes; things like light-weight latches are the reasons Toyota and Honda improve their cars each year.”

Non sequitur?

“The car is a highly complex product, with 5,000 parts that must come together with a tolerance as low as one-one thousandth of an inch, where a fault in quality can shut down an assembly plant, costing up to $10,000.”

And another non sequitur?