Before he was linked to the expansive New York pay to pay probe for paying shady “finder’s fees” to steer $100 million in pension money to his private equity firm, Obama “car czar” Steve Rattner was controversial for a more straightforward reason: there was something of a deficit of evidence he knew anything about cars.
Having spent most of his lucrative financial career investing in and advising media companies, Rattner’s automotive experience appeared limited to two things: first, his private equity firm Quadrangle made a bad loan to the private equity firm that owns Chrysler to make an investment in Maxim magazine that managed to reap worse returns than the ailing automaker. And secondly, there was the fact that Rattner had, as NPR and other news agencies reported, covered the Chrysler bailout as a reporter for the New York Times in 1979. NPR even quoted from a story he had written on the bailout, and the Wall Street Journal subtly emphasized that bailout’s significance in Rattner’s career in a profile that ran earlier this month:
Roger Altman, a Wall Street financier who was the Treasury Department’s point man during the first Chrysler bailout in 1979, says Mr. Rattner is well-suited for his new job.We’d better hope Altman is right about that.
“Steve has a brilliant grasp of finance, and that is the single-most important ingredient here,” said Mr. Altman, a longtime mentor who lured Mr. Rattner to Lehman Brothers in 1982.
Because we just read everything Rattner seems to have written on the Chrysler bailout, and uh…he’s no Ray Magliozzi. Between 1975 and 1986 Rattner appears to have written about four stories addressing the Chrysler bailout and only a handful more mention the auto industry.
He wrote in depth about the auto industry exactly once, in a 1981 story focusing on the dramatic contrasts in productivity at two identical European Ford plants, one near Liverpool where quality and output were extremely low and one worker “greeted a news photographer by exposing himself” and another in Saarlouis, Germany where all the workers generally adhered to widely-held stereotypes about German engineering, precision, lack of irony, etc. Eight hundred words into the story, we learn wages at the German plant, at $13.50 an hour, happen to be 64% higher than their British counterparts.
A few months after the story came out, Rattner Times quit the Times and took his financial brilliance to investment banking. He is now a billionaire. The starting wage for auto workers in Detroit is just about where it was in Germany when he left.