Thirty years ago, the American steel industry went through an experience similar to today’s crisis in Detroit. I remember writing a page one story for the New York Times in 1977 about a stunning third-quarter loss at Bethlehem Steel, which announced plans to close mills in Johnstown, PA and Lackawanna, NY. Many of the great old names of American steel, like Bethlehem, National, Armco, and J&L, all disappeared. Their assets closed or were bought and improved. Only United States Steel survived as a corporate entity, albeit a very different one. There were many cries of despair, in particular that we needed a domestic steel industry for national defense. But there was no bail-out. The American steel industry re-emerged, pretty quickly really, in a new form. Entrepreneurs launched new mills that operated with electric furnaces fed with scrap. In general, the industry became more customer focused, and less production focused. American steel is very competitive today.
The auto industry needs to go through the same economic Darwinian process.