Monday, November 28, 2011

Greco-American Style "Belt-Tightening"

The Europeans (i.e., The Germans) are trying to bail out the Greeks. It won't work. The Greeks will not meet their European partners halfway.

For this bailout to work, the Greeks must begin to practice that which innately they cannot stomach - the very utterance of the word to them is hateful. I will spell it: A-U-S-T-E-R-I-T-Y. It simply means, tighten your belt, fool.

The problem with these descendants of Aristotle is they thing they know it all. Americans are not much better. We, too, cringe at the mention of "belt-tightening." We figure there must be an easier way.

Not long ago, Whirlpool, the iconic American appliance-maker, pulled up stakes in Evansville, Indiana and moved their operations to Mexico. Over a thousand people in Evansville lost their jobs. The upside: Because Whirlpool can now build their product at a lower cost, they can sell it at a lower price. Add to that: Money saved on production now goes to research and development. Whirlpool refrigerators are not only less expensive, but according to customers, they are now better.

Zenith, too, has moved to Mexico. One customer said of the new Zenith televisions, "Now, I can buy two."

The lesson is simple: Jobs leave America because Americans want more money than their labor is actually worth.

Doesn't it seem obvious that if you will accept less salary, the product you make will cost less, which ultimately means your product will be more competitive on the global market?

People complain about China taking America jobs. Yet, those same people do not complain when they go into a store and find a pair of jeans for $35 that ten years ago $75.

The free enterprise system works. Americans seem to think that because it no longer works for them, it must be broken. It is not broken; we are. Our work ethic broken. We want more for less.

Many people excoriated NAFTA - that free-trade agreement signed in 1993 during the Clinton administration. Said it would cost American jobs. And so it did. But it also afforded Americans access to lower priced goods.

Americans could still be making those products. They simply do not want to. They do not believe it is worth their while to make televisions ans shoes and paper plates. But what is the alternative - stand around with your hands out (like the Greeks) and expect to be paid simply because you are better than everyone else? See how close that gets you to the American dream.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Hand of Greatness

Fate decides the greatness of presidents by the moments it thrusts upon them. In that way, Barack Obama has a chance to be mentioned among America's greats. He has already been blessed (or cursed) with the main ingredient: Mayhem on the existential level. Now all he must do is handle it.

Of the presidents considered among America's greatest, three stand out: Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. It was during Lincoln's presidency that we faced our greatest threat from within. Washington's greatness lies not within the parameters of his presidency, but in that he led the great struggle - the American Revolution - that led to the first presidency. His greatest contribution to the nation during his presidency, besides putting down the "Whiskey Rebellion" was that he helped define what a "president" would be.

Other presidents have come and gone, and we barely think of them - not because they were bland, but because their moments in history were bland. They could have been the smartest men on Earth; they could have been the most courageous. It doesn't matter. It they were not dealt "existential mayhem," they could never be called "great". (Oh, and they could not start mayhem.)

George W. Bush's finest moment came when he stood atop the pile of rubble that was "Ground Zero" and shouted, "We're Comin'!" Outside of that, his presidency, as Shakespeare would say, was "bound in shallows."

Obama has been dealt an extraordinary hand. He does not have a war, he has wars. He has a 14 trillion dollar debt (that may explode). He faces a resurgent China, a resurgent Iran, and a resurgent Putin. And he gazes across an abyss at the "Arab Spring" - not the implosion of one critical nation, but the likely implosion of an entire region wherein lies most of the "mother's milk" that powers the world. Add to that, a rancor in American politics not seen since the days of Lincoln.

Besides, Obama has come along at the outset of a technological revolution, and it becomes him. He grasps it. He did not create it. He simply happened at the time it happened. Now he navigates it with a deftness that is unparalleled on the world stage.

He is the envy of foes both foreign and domestic. He is at once imposing, then reserve. When he imposes himself, they call him a braggart. When he is reserved, they complain that he is weak and unbecoming an American president who must always be out front. It is okay. That is the breadth of the office. Apparently, he has a similar breadth.

In the face of great times, to speak of great men is droll commentary. Yet, in the end, we always speak of great men and women. They are what we imagine of ourselves if only we were dealt the "winning" hand.