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Don’t Know Nothin’ About History

5:21 PM, Aug 17, 2011 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Yesterday I pointed to President Obama’s alarmingly statist “reasonable” view of his government’s handling of Chrysler and GM. But in focusing on Obama’s ideology, I missed the bigger story. To refresh, here’s what Obama said:

[W]e turned around those auto companies—they are now making a profit for the first time in decades, they’re gaining market share for the first time in years.

Looking at that quotation now, what jumps out at me is this: “they are now making a profit for the first time in decades.” Really? That can’t possibly be true, can it? The only companies in America that can go “decades” without making a profit are Amtrak and the U.S. Postal Service.

And after 10 minutes of digging, it turns out that—mirabile dictu—GM made a net profit ($2.1B) in 2004. And in 2003. And 2002. And 2001. (I couldn’t find data from before that without subscribing to EDGAR’s crazy-expensive service. If readers have the full data set at their fingertips, I’d be grateful if they sent it along.) GM’s latest loss years spanned from 2005 to 2008. And they lost a ton of money. But it’s not as though this has been a once-in-a-generation return to profitability.

Chrysler’s financials are a little harder to track down, but the Obama-haters at NPR say that the automotive group turned a $2B profit in 2005 on the strength of “the stylish Chrysler 300 sedan, the Dodge Magnum wagon, featuring rear-wheel drive, and the Dodge Ram pickup.” I mention this only because you’d think Obama might have remembered Chrysler’s good old days, because he drove a 300c when he was in Illinois. And it was a 2005 model, the same one powering Chrysler’s very profitable year.

No one is allowed to quibble with Obama’s innate intellectual brilliance, so this couldn’t be (another) case of the president simply having no idea what he’s talking about. More likely, it’s (another) case of the president believing that history began in 2008.

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