The Insanity of the Economy


Browsing BoingBoing today I saw this article. I clicked through and looked through the photos posted on the auction website. It’s worth a look. Here’s the story: wikipedia Chrysler’s Newark Assembly plant in Newark, Delaware built tanks between 1951 and 1957, and cars between 1957 and 2009, including LeBarons, Town and Countrys, and most recently Dodge Durangoes. The property and facility was bought by the University of Delaware for $24.25M, as it is adjacent to campus. They plan to re purpose the property for research and future expansion. The sale was made in October 2009, now they are auctioning all the industrial machinery, tooling and fixtures that made the plant run. $24.25 seems like really a pittance for such a facility- 3m sq. ft., chock full of everything needed to run a production car manufacturing operation.

The pictures really struck a chord with me. Usually when pictures are available of a closed factory, or other “urban relics”, they’re in rough shape- they’ve been looted and explored, the roof leaks, flaking paint and light filtered through broken windows illuminate scenes of decay and rust. Not here- this factory is fresh and clean. The pictures could have been taken over a holiday when the workers were at home, aside from the acres of empty stock shelves. And indeed- the emptiness is not due to flood or famine or disaster, but just the management deciding to close up. The employees cleaned up one night, and never came back. They’re still around- but not working here anymore.


And equipment! What equipment! Mills, lathes, a Haas VMC and toolroom mill, stock racks and bandsaws, in the manual machine shop alone. All installed in a solid, spacious, well lit facility. Not to even mention any of the production facilities, or testing/QC areas. Auto lifts, toolboxes, spacious rooms with everything needed to do anything with cars.

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It’s hard to put my finger on what I’m trying to get at, because the screw-up represented here is so fundamental to the issues I see at play in the world here. Simply, it is insane that everything Chrysler built here is being taken apart and auctioned to the highest bidder. The “service economy” or “knowledge economy” that America has been and is still purposefully heading towards excludes manufacturing. And here we have a university taking over an American manufacturing facility and instantly liquidating everything they can, including facilities that could be used in industrial engineering education programs, and demolishing it, ready to build whatever fits their vision. Research space and future expansion. In order to crank out more B.A.s who don’t understand how the food gets on their table, and B.S.s who don’t know what to do with a wrench or drill.

Even if the plant was built to make cars and the car market has been pulled out from under it doesn’t mean that the established manufacturing facility it left behind is worth most as empty land for a university. Considering capitalism, a plant full of machines should have more earning potential, and should be worth more than a plot of land. And from a “doing what’s right for the world in the face of impending energy crisis that will destroy every foundation of American life” perspective, that plant should be building wind turbines, or electric motorcycles or electric cars or anything to prepare for a post-petro world, regardless of profitability. I would pack up and move to Delaware right now, plus give my right kidney for the chance at using 1/100 of that facility to work on things that I think are important for the future of the world. It really kills me to see this kind of an opportunity taken away. As well, America does not need everyone to go to university, many of the kids “served” by the University of Delaware would be better served by the opportunity to work in the trades, in a facility like the one that is currently being destroyed.

Here’s the list of items to be auctioned (189 6-axis robotic arms. Jeezus).

And here is a mirror of all the images on the auction page.

P.S. 50th post! Woo hoo!

Posted on January 14, 2010 at 8:10 pm by Henry · Permalink
In: Cars, Life and Times

4 Responses

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  1. Written by Beth
    on January 15, 2010 at 8:43 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I hear you sir. There are soo many trades that are loosing the artisans in favor of automation, education and outsourcing. It’s really unfortunate that the general populous lacks respect for quality, hard work, and the knowledge that comes with producing something with your hands. It’s also frustrating to reconcile a deep appreciation for the trades and finding a way to make a decent living here. I can’t seem to do what I want for a living in this area while the cost of living has been raised so steeply by nouveau-riche greedy tech-ventures and investment bankers.

    Oh and don’t forget, NUMMI’s closing soon too, might be an opportunity there to get hands on some nice tools!

  2. Written by Maggi Brown
    on January 18, 2010 at 8:22 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Agree with you about the value of what is real in this world vs what is “hollow.”

    “In order to crank out more B.A.s who don’t understand how the food gets on their table, and B.S.s who don’t know what to do with a wrench or drill.” Yes!

    Interesting essay!

  3. Written by WiredForStereo
    on January 23, 2010 at 11:07 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I wish business had more of a utilitarian goal in mind. I mean, why does the sole purpose of a business have to be to make money? I know we can’t force it, but we used to have laws that corporations had to exist for the public good.

    I own a small beekeeping business of which I am the sole proprietor and sole employee, so this concept wouldn’t really work there, but I have an idea. If I get the opportunity to start a business with employees, profit and such, it will be the express stated purpose of the business to provide jobs, not to create profit. Every employee will receive a handsome share of the profits and hiring and firing decisions will be up to the employees. Therefore, employees will truly have the bottom line in mind, because it’s their paycheck. Just an idea.

  4. Written by AcuteAero » An (almost) Year at AcuteAero
    on February 17, 2010 at 1:32 am
    Reply · Permalink

    […] My most recent writing, inspired by the University of Delaware and Chrysler- January 2010 […]

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