The Possible Bankruptcy of Chrysler: The Ghosts of Walden Pond still Haunt Us


In his essay, ‘Civil Disobedience’, Henry David Thoreau expounds on the meaning of individual liberty in America, and how ‘Tha government is best which governs not at all.’ Thoreau originally had withdrawn to Walden Pond as a protest against being compelled by his government to pay taxes that were to be used to finance the Mexican war, which he disapproved of. A familiar lament.

But it was also symptomatic of America’s almost pathological obsession with individual liberty, and freedom from control, especially from that of government. The Founding Fathers of the USA descended from the Pilgrims and the Puritans, both groups of English-speaking people originally from Britain, who had disagreed with the theology of the Anglican Church, which itself had disagreed with the theology and management of the Roman Catholic Church.

So by nature, these were very argumentative, libertarian, freedom-loving people, whose belief in the individual liberty and freedom of men was fierce and unalienable. So much so that the nation which they founded was, what they considered to be, in the case of the Puritans,  a ‘City upon a Hill’, as their governor, John Winthrop put it. In other words, a shining beacon of light, and an example for other civilizations to emulate.

The tragic flaw within that definition of individual liberty and freedom, was that it eventually evolved to become  regarded as the late 18th century definition of liberal-democratic ideology, which was itself fundamentally predicated upon the ideals of laissez-faire capitalism, the kind of which was espoused by Adam Smith in his book, ‘The Wealth of Nations’. This book was essentially a critique of the political/economic management system which had heretofore prevailed up to that time, which became known as Mercantilism, wherein the state, represented by the King and his ministers and the clergy, controlled the ebb and flow of capital which was to be circulated in the world.

Men of property had become increasingly impatient and frustrated in their headlong pursuit of the accumulation of material wealth and temporal power, that they felt encumbered by the strictures imposed on them and their affairs, by the various Kings, Queens, and sundry potentates of Europe, and sought to pursue their process of wealth accumulation with unfettered alacrity.

Hence the call for ‘No taxation without representation’ in the wake of the Seven Years War. The merchant classes of Boston, New York and New Haven were more than happy to wage another war only a few years later to prevent their commerce and their property from being taxed by King George to pay for something as insignificant as the war debt incurred for the expulsion of their longstanding rival, the Empire of France, from the face of the Continent.

And so the story of America the Beautiful began. Unbridled individualism coupled with ferocious militarism, conspired to allow this new Empire to arrogate to itself heretofore unheard of wealth, power, property, and prestige.

However, the ghosts of Walden Pond have come back to haunt our good Lady Columbia. She now finds herself, as the American Rock band Styx so aptly put it in their song ‘Suite Madam Blue’, off of the ‘Equinox’ album: ‘… dressed in your jewels, you made your own rules, you conquered the world and more, heaven’s door…’. In another part of the song, they sing: ‘Suite Madam Blue, gaze in your looking glass, you’re not a child any more. Suite Madam Blue, the future is all but past, so lift up your heart and make a new start, and lead us away from here…’

These words were written in 1974, on the eve of America’s withdrawal from Vietnam the following year. They could just as easily apply to the current predicament facing America and its corporate denizens.

Take Chrysler for example. The entire US automobile industry for years acted like Thoreau at Walden Pond. They refused to be told what to do in whatever shape or form by the US government concerning how to run their business. GM even at one point used to say that ‘What’s good for GM is good for America’. Ford made innovative products that were cheap to buy but expensive to repair. And Chrysler? They had a reputation for engineering excellence that made them a bit of a maverick in Detroit. They pioneered things like unit body construction long before GM or Ford adopted them. Same goes for aerodynamic designs.

But they eventually were never able to adapt their corporate philosophy to changing market conditions, forge global partnerships to become big enough to survive and thrive. Chrysler is symptomatic of all that is wrong with corporate America. It’s a corporation which adhered to the idea that somehow ‘Yankee Ingenuity’ would just spring up out of the fountainhead of individuals and save the day. Bad idea.

What has made corporate Japan so successful is its tight cooperation between its corporate sector and its national government, especially MITI, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. These two sectors work closely to agree on consumer health and safety standards, testing, existing norms in various countries, etc…

America used to just produce its products and simply expect the whole world to adapt itself to them the way they were, which cost them dearly.

So I find it all the more ironic that an Empire, which seems to so abhor the notion of group-centered ideology and collectively-construed action, should have the world’s most powerful military machine, which, ironically, works on the principal of collective action and the virtual total abnegation of the individual and his liberty, so as to, surprise, surprise, defend the ideals of individual liberty and freedom!!!

I think it would behoove the current US President to re-examine the fundamental principles upon which his Nation is construed, if he has any hope of salvaging this current Pax Americana, much less spawning a new one.

Beware the ghosts of Walden Pond: They cometh for Chrysler Corporation. Who will be their next victim?

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