Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Cheap Country

We have become a cheap country -- Not inexpensive cheap, stingy cheap. And thereby sits our problem.

We do no more than is necessary. In anything. Profit has become an obscene word, it's true, but more than that, so is any kind of frill. Once our buildings were things of aesthetic beauty, not just the minimum to get by. We cared. We cared how we were regarded, what people thought of us and our works. We had pride. Even in the midst of the Depression, we built great buildings like the Empire State building in New York, and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Now even when times are good, we give and get just the minimum. Now, to cut expenses, even great works are Butler buildings. No Parthenon. No Acropolis. Not even a Roman Coliseum. The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games will ultimately leave no lasting mark -- they were just glorified Butler buildings

There is not even a recognition that not all value, not all worth, can be measured in dollars. The bottom line is now the only thing that counts. The result is that there is no margin for error. There is no fall back position. No survival room. And now it comes back to bite us. Companies "too big to fail" fail.
There has long been no place for also-rans. That the second place company can not survive always seemed strange to me. After all, didn't Avis "Try harder"? Now even the first place companies do not necessarily survive. Your local mall is surrounded by all the carcasses of dead and dying big-box stores -- Circuit City, Linens-and-Things, Comp-USA, K-Mart, Handy City, A&P. There are even remains of dead McDonalds and Walmarts.
I am not saying we are wrong for taking advantage of any bargain that is offered to us. I am saying - Do not always go for the cheapest thing available to you. Go for the best value. Value is the point where the line for price crosses the line for quality. It will be more economical in the long run. The hundred dollars shoes cost more than the twenty dollar ones - for a reason. The are better made and with better materials, and are better for your feet. No, they aren't the three hundred dollar pair; and yes, those have even more quality (and in this case, maybe even more value ... or, they may just be more expensive). But the twenty dollar pair at Walmart have a side effect -- they drive down the price to a point where an American Company like Florshiem or Johnston and Murphy must hold their prices below what they really must make to stay alive. And to do that, they must outsource too. That costs American workers their jobs. My favorite talk show host admonishes us that "this is a global economy and we do not need or want to be protectionist". I differ with him. Someone in this country must make something. We can not survive on being middlemen. We can not consume our way to wealth any more than we can tax out way to it. Someone must manufacture wealth. The Government can not do it. All they can do is take yours -- through taxation if you are rich (i.e. go to work in the morning) or through competition for resources if you are not.
But it will take more than just manufacturing things here to bring things around. It will require the American worker to return to the meme of working hard, and with pride, and doing more than just the minimum to get by -- By putting pride in his product and increasing the value of his work.
For us to do that, we will have to start at home. we will need to turn out culture back to the point of taking care of our own home and family being normal. It will need the worker of course, but it will also take our CEOs and planners putting as much effort into the survival of their companies as they do in their "golden parachutes". And it will take our politicians putting as much effort into the survival of our country as they do into getting re-elected. That is being cheap too.

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