A lot of folks are having fun with the news that “Joe the Plumber,” the Ohio man who famously tangled with Obama over his “spread the wealth” comment back in 2008, has now gotten himself a union job with Chrysler Group LLC. Ever since that encounter with Obama, Joe has enjoyed years of national recognition as the leading regular-guy critic of Obama’s penchant for seizing people’s hard earned money and giving it away to others.
As the Toledo Blade reports, Joe the Plumber — a.k.a. Samuel Wurzelbacher — says he was required to join the United Auto Workers, now that he works for a union shop, and claims he’s been called a “Tea Bagger” by at least one pro-union co-worker. “I’m a Republican who was cast into the limelight for having the temerity to confront Barack Obama on the question of redistributing wealth,” Joe says. “But I’m a working man, and I’m working.”
The union angle is fun, but it’s worth noting another interesting and amusing irony to this tale.
It appears plausible that Joe the Plumber may not have gotten this auto job if it weren’t for the hated bailout of the auto industry, which was first championed by George W. Bush and then became a leading symbol for years of Obama’s penchant for big-footed government intervention in the private market.
Sean McAlinden, who has studied the auto-bailout as the chief economist for the non-profit Center for Automotive Research, tells me it’s likely Joe’s new job is at one of two Chrysler plants currently operating in Toledo, Ohio, Joe’s home town. (I’ve emailed Joe asking for more info.)
“He wouldn’t have gotten a job in Toledo if Chrysler hadn’t been bailed out,” McAlinden tells me. “The unemployment rate in Toledo would have been at 15 percent.”
The Center for Automotive Research recently released a report finding that the federal bailout of Chrysler, GM, and auto parts suppliers saved 1.5 million jobs. McAlinden, the chief author of the report, says the bailout was one of the “most successful” government interventions “in U.S. economic history.”
These jobs saved by the bailout almost certainly would have included the one Joe the Plumber now has,” McAlinden tells me.
If there had been no bailout, McAlinden says, “Chrysler would have shut down immediately. No production; no jobs; no pension payments; no nothing. Within 90 days the salaried people would have scattered to the winds, and the plants would have started to fall apart. The suppliers would have failed.”
“An auto company is not just itself,” McAlinden continued, suggesting those jobs would have disappeared for good without a bailout: “There wasn’t anyone else to give them a loan. There wasn’t anyone else to buy Chrysler. You can’t shut an automotive factory and just start it up again like a motorcycle in your garage three months later. It’s part of a factory ecosystem. Each factory has around 1,100 suppliers. They wouldn’t have been there. The skilled labor would have been gone — they would have left to find jobs somewhere else.”
“Those plants survived,” McAlinden said. “Their supply chains survived. Their product development teams survived. The whole ecosystem of designing and building automobiles survived.”
Asked if the industry — and jobs like the one Joe seems to occupy — could have rebounded without the bailout, McAlinden said: “You don’t shut down and bankrupt a company for too long. No one will buy their product again. Nobody will trust its warranties or trust that it will be there in four years when you need its parts and services. If that company stayed down for two long, its whole consumer base would have fled.”
“I hope that Joe gets that bonus check in 12 months,” McAlinden joked. “Maybe that bonus check will change his economic philosophy.”