Friday, October 21, 2011

Grasshoppers and ants

It may not be the funniest idea in the world, but it's close, to think that we humans can manage our way out of all the trouble we've been causing for ourselves. The economy ain't entirely subject to the laws of physics, poot. At least not the laws that they talk about at those TED conferences and overfunded think tanks. Some little social scientist writing formulae on a chalkboard and wagging his finger at the college-educated congregation. Maybe somewhere down the line his sleek models will look like our bloated reality. Until then you better hang onto your Ouija Board and keep some cabbage in your mattress.

Shoot, it's getting chilly in here and there's no money to pay for propane. Cold water comes out of the tap brown and there're mice turds all over the kitchen counter. The mailbox is full of fliers from discount retailers, credit bureaus, and insurance companies. Fat-arsed politicians think we hunt deer and squirrel for sport.

Go online and read the first half dozen pieces on the economy you come across. It's clear that nobody knows what to do about the seized-up engine. Should we stimulate it or starve it? Raise revenues or rescind taxes? Extend credit or reduce debt? Manufacture for export or make our own shite? Bolster confidence or scare the bejabbers out of people or, better yet, do both at the same time. The Great Correction my arse.

It's effin embarrassing -- the wankers next door scarf down red meat and chiffon pie while we eat macaroni and cheese out of a box. Only other thing we can afford down at the suprette is soda. We go up to the orchard Sunday evenings, after the tourists have done their apple-picking, and root through the wormy ones they've left behind, us, the Mexicans, and the raccoons. Next thing you know, we'll be sniffing around in the dumpsters behind Shop-Rite, like bears.

The white-coated savants think of the economy as mechanical, subject to technical correction, while the magical thinkers believe it's all a matter of individual entrepreneurship and prayer. Sell enough pizza, Jesus, and you can afford that second home in Naples. The sharkskin suits with degrees say, "Print more money and give everybody a flex card." Pennies from heaven. "Give the poor bastards coupons so they can buy their effin pills. Without their pills, they might get pissed at us."

It doesn't seem possible but you can get fat on sugar and scripture alone. Corn syrup and corn pone. Bury your gelt in a vault and the lord will cut you down. Maybe we'd be better off without bodies. If we were just software. A string of code, a program, an endless loop waiting for some post-doc geek to hit "terminate." Sissy keeps hoping that we'll win the lottery, but the odds are one in fourteen million, poot. Tougher than getting struck by effin lightning. A while back we looked at a burger franchise but it cost too much. Now we're thinking about selling tacos or Chinese dumplings from a truck. If only we could afford a truck. Hell, if only we could afford a taco. What else can we do? Work on a farm?

1 comment:

  1. Just back from yet another stint of traveling and attended a meeting in Dearborn, Michigan of all the major car manufacturers from around the world - Ford, GM, Chrysler, Renault, Toyota, Honda, Tata Motors, Nissan, BMW, Volkswagen, etc. It is an annual 4-day meeting where these companies act as a consortium to define their future needs for car design and manufacturing software and assess the state of the technology. I believe that I am the first outside technology specialist they have ever invited to attend this annual meeting and present there. I even met Alan Mullaly, the CEO of Ford. He is an impressive guy. Although he is a transplant from aerospace to the car industry, he is a product guy who understands engineering - who was trained and worked as an engineer. Yet he seems to know how to operate a company and he is an effective communicator – a rare bird in American business.

    My observations from the meeting relate to the root causes of the symptoms that you vividly describe in this blog posting. Here are a few of my observations:
    1. Among the Asian car manufacturers (except Toyota), there was no executive older than 45 years. Among the U.S. and Western European manufacturers, everyone looked older than 45. Several of the most experienced of those in the Western world were discussing retirement.
    2. Everyone acknowledged that Asian markets such as India and China are the growth engine of the car industry. The emerging middle classes in each of those countries alone is greater than the entire population of the United States.
    3. There are job opportunities in the automotive industry – even in the U.S. As the big problem, even the blue collar jobs require a level of education in computer programming, math, analytical thinking, etc. that is rare among today’s American blue collar worker. Since the growth markets are in Asia and the needed skills sets are more available in Asia, guess where the jobs are going?

    I am now working closely with clients in three other industries – power generation, medical devices, and consumer goods. (Before I get to the details of software technology and how to implement it, I first reinforce that their fundamental challenges are rooted in how they think.) But, the patterns of those companies are similar to the auto industry; they are globalized, local skilled and experienced people are older, and they desperately need new skill sets that they cannot find. It is upsetting that many of such companies have wads of cash yet they are unwilling to invest in bright young local people for fear (I think) that those young people will take newly learned talents elsewhere – and they want immediate results. They would rather find cheaper, better trained people readily available elsewhere in the world right now – where the perceived growth markets are.

    I see few people thoughtfully acknowledging these inexorable global trends and intelligently discussing how to navigate the challenges. I believe we can improve things but not with our current profile of leadership and culture in which neither the sense of accountability nor responsibility is sufficiently widespread. I know there are lots of people out there willing to do what it takes if given the chance. Few in charge seem to have the courage to set conditions that involve short term pain for long term benefit. When I travel to other countries, better education seems to be a lot cheaper and they have national healthcare policies (albeit imperfect) that seem to work more equitably than here. Yet, we still have opportunities in the U.S. that others overseas envy, given the legacy of past accomplishments and past thought leadership. But, from their point of view, we are pissing our current opportunities away.