The New York Times editorial writers have (finally!) found an area where "decisions must be the province of private enterprise, not intrusive lawmakers." The decision in question is how many General Motors and Chrysler dealerships to close and which ones. By the Times's narrative, "the companies decided that it was necessary to try to cut their losses and catch up with foreign competitors by selling cars through fewer dealers," while the House of Representatives is engaging in "political pandering." But, no matter what the Times claims, GM and Chrysler are not private enterprises in any meaningful sense of the term; GM is basically owned by the federal government and Chrysler was forced by the federal government into the hands of Fiat. The federal government fired GM's CEO and picked the new CEO. The federal government put tens of billions of dollars into both companies and their affiliated suppliers and finance arms after demanding restructuring plans from the companies. Those plans included closing dealerships. So the Congressional meddling that the Times is complaining about is not with real private enterprise or company decision-making but with the decision-making that the companies did working with the executive branch of the federal government.
In a normal scenario, it would be up to a company to decide, within the limits of contract law, how to deal with its dealers. But this is not a normal scenario. This is a scenario in which the executive branch has invested tens of billions of TARP money into the automakers. Usually spending taxpayer money in Congress's job, so it is understandable to see the members of Congress regretting the blank check they gave the administration in the form of TARP (which was supposed to be for financial institutions not automakers). Meanwhile, the Times's newfound respect for allowing decisions to be made by private enterprise rather than Congress apparently does not extend to bonuses for bankers. Another New York Times editorial, also published today, says, "A solution is for Congress to handle bankers' compensation as a stand-alone issue, as the House Financial Services Committee has said it is ready to do."
So, according to the Times, Congress should set bank bonus policy but not auto dealer policy, even though the government share of the ownership of GM is larger than it is at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley, the two banks whose bonuses the Times is most upset about. If there's a consistent underlying principle or rule operating here, it sure is difficult for this reader to detect.