From Chrysler and General Motors to Detroit

By David A. Skeel, Jr., University of Pennsylvania Law School

dskeel

In the past five years, three of the most remarkable bankruptcy cases in American history have come out of Detroit: the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors in 2009, and of Detroit itself in 2013. The principal objective of this Article is simply to show that the Grand Bargain at the heart of the Detroit bankruptcy is the direct offspring of the bankruptcy sale transactions that were used to restructure Chrysler and GM. The proponents of Detroit’s “Grand Bargain” never would have dreamed up the transaction were it not for the federal government-engineered carmaker bankruptcies. The Article’s second objective, based the comparison of the Detroit cases, is to make a very brief case for reform of bankruptcy sales.

Part I of the Article briefly surveys the increased use of bankruptcy sales and related shifts in Chapter 11 practice over the past several decades. Part II describes the Chrysler and General Motors bankruptcies, which built on but radically expanded the scope of a bankruptcy sale. Part III turns to the Detroit bankruptcy, focusing primarily on the “Grand Bargain,” while also exploring the city’s use of another recent bankruptcy strategy, known as “gifting.” The Article concludes, in a brief final part, that the Detroit cases have pushed recent bankruptcy innovations to their logical extremes — and beyond — exposing the need to update the oversight of bankruptcy sales.

The full version of this article is available here.

 

Bankruptcy and Economic Recovery

Authors: Thomas Jackson & David Skeel

A striking feature of the recent economic crisis was the long period of subpar economic growth that continued even after the crisis had officially ended.  Although discussion about how to spur economic recovery has focused on the efficacy of Keynesian stimulus spending, this is only one of many factors that might plausibly encourage growth.  For a book entitled “Financial Restructuring to Sustain Recovery,” published by the Brookings Institution, we were asked to discuss the role that bankruptcy policy plays, or might play, in economic recovery.

After summarizing how bankruptcy posits a collective solution to a common pool problem of individual creditors and thereby improves the efficient use of assets, we consider two obstacles to its effectiveness.  The first is that bankruptcy proceedings often seem to begin too late.  The increased influence of debtors’ principal lenders probably counteracts this problem in part, but we suspect not fully.  We consider a wide range of strategies that lawmakers might use to encourage timely filing, some of which are fairly simple, while others are more speculative.

The second major issue is the relationship between bankruptcy and jobs.  The question whether bankruptcy should be used to protect jobs is a recurring theme that came to the fore most recently when the government used bankruptcy to bail out Chrysler, justifying its intervention as preserving jobs.  We caution that distorting the standard bankruptcy rules—focused on efficient use of assets—to save jobs in the short run may have more problematic effects overall.

The full-length article can be found here.