Economics Politics

Whining about Airbus

Holman Jenkins expressed in the Feb 9, 2005 issue of the Wall Street Journal an opinion about Airbus that I’ve been noticing a lot lately. It seems the roll out of the new A380 double-decker jumbo jet has many anti-Europeans all tied up in a knot. Jenkins sets the mood of his temper tantrum by asking the question… “What has Europe got for $15 billion in taxpayer handouts over three decades, besides a fetish object that politicians can fawn over to distract attention from their economic failures?” It seems that answer


is fairly obvious… a larger sales value than any other commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world, including Boeing. Not that Jenkins was really asking for an answer, he quickly dismisses the question and rolls into what he calls “today’s topical question”… “Are Airbus executives – who have the potential to be world-class, even if their home economies aren’t – out of their minds?” But even this question seems to be more of a rhetorical stab than anything else, maybe he just needed to vent a little bit before getting down to the nuts and bolts of his actual problem.

Yes, that’s right… HIS problem. The contents of his compliant form reveals the real nature of what he has to say. In simple words, he is miffed that Airbus is relying on government subsidies. But how is that a problem for Airbus? And since most of the Europeans don’t seem to mind paying for it then how is that a problem for them? In general, Europeans take more vacations overseas than American do, maybe they actually like the idea of Airbus rolling out a luxurious aircraft for the ride, maybe there is some value in the pride they have in such trophies of European engineering. That may seem like a hard concept to wrap our pragmatic American minds around but think for a moment about how our tune changes when we see the Thunderbirds ripping through the skies above the football stadium in their F-16’s. We don’t seem to have a problem spending our taxes on military contracts do we? Oh, that’s different, I know. The military expenses are keeping the world safe… It’s always different. I don’t need to argue the differences between what people think is important to spend money on, my point is simple… people are willing to spend taxes on what they think is important to them, and if we were less than hypocritical, we would understand that freedom includes the right for people to make that decision for themselves. But ironically, the Bush administration,

so-called champions of democracy, can’t seem to accept this. Right now they are demanding a roll-back of a 1992 agreement that tolerates government subsidies as long as they are limited to 33% of the launch cost of a new aircraft. So much for free-will. Jenkins wraps up his gripe-session with the challenge that Airbus executives

should “show some class” by spurning further direct handouts in competition with Boeing. He says… “it’s the disciplined way to run a business that deserves the confidence of investors.” I guess he thinks that private capital is the only respectable way to get funded. That doesn’t say much for our military contractors. And really, if you think about it, it’s a sad world that relies on private capital for everything anyway, because private capital takes the wonders of science and engineering away from the realms of human capacity and ties it down to the servitude of bean-counters.