This is a common viewpoint, I’ve found, among my Democratic friends–Jon Alter, this means you!–who would never actually buy a Detroit product but who want to believe the UAW can’t be blamed. The argument seems to be roughly this: a) American cars are now reliable enough, having closed the gap with the Japanese brands, so b) the workers are doing their job; therefore c) if Detroit cars like the G6 are still obviously inferior–tacky and cheap, with mediocre handling–it must be because they’re designed badly by white collar professionals, not because they’re built badly by blue collar union members.

The trouble with this comforting liberal argument is labor costs. When Kuttner says “Japanese total labor costs are comparable, even with Detroit’s higher health insurance costs,” he is–as is so often the case–talking through his hat.

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