Today’s public offering marks the moment when the Main Street and Wall Street bailouts meet. But the Wall Street firms haven’t been divvied up as G.M. has, in ways so visible to the eye. For General Motors, divided into its “Old” and “New” halves, there’s an inescapable paradox: the only possible route to future profitability is to create, through plant closings, monuments to past unprofitability. Old G.M. may have gone away for the purposes of the stock offering, but it didn’t go away in what might rightfully be called actuality.
Across the nation, as in Detroit, there is an economic disconnect, a split between what the economic numbers say and how things feel on the ground. The economy is growing, but the unemployment rate hasn’t budged. The recession officially ended in June 2009, but more jobs have been lost than have been added since that “ending.”
Handling this disconnect requires political acuity. It brings to mind something Philip Roth once said about those who have little feel for literature and the texture of lived experience it provides and so “theorize” it. Mr. Roth imagined a scene of a father giving his son this advice while attending a baseball game: “Now, what I want you to do is watch the scoreboard. Stop watching the field. Just watch what happens when the numbers change on the scoreboard. Isn’t that great?” Then Mr. Roth asks: “Is that politicizing the baseball game? Is that theorizing the baseball game? No, it’s having not the foggiest idea in the world what baseball is.”
It’ll be fun, for a day or two, to look at the scoreboard, and to see what G.M.’s shares are going for: $26? $29? $33? $35? The numbers on the exchange will change; it’ll be great, and a welcome, temporary relief from the numbers, still difficult to comprehend, of jobs lost and plants closed. Soon enough, though, we’ll have to go back to watching what’s actually happening on the field, where there’s still a blowout in progress, with the home team way behind, and no one, seemingly, with the foggiest idea what to do about it.