Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'Where you're at depends on where you've been'


By George Templeton
Payson, Ariz.

Wheel stabilizers were a popular automotive aftermarket item sold in the 50’s. They were recommended for back roads where travel frequently required traversing unpaved wash-board surfaces, ruts, and pot holes. I can recall riding in a taxi. Its steering wheel had to be spun nearly a full rotation before the vehicle responded. The driver was constantly turning the wheel back and forth in an effort to keep the car going straight. There was no problem with falling asleep at the wheel here!

Wheel stabilizers were heavy lead hubcaps. They worked on sound scientific principles. The physics of angular momentum is what keeps the rifle bullet going straight and the bicycle from falling over. Spinning gyroscopes help moon rockets and ocean liners go straight. Lead hubcaps cannot be denied the same law of physics. However, lead hubcaps might not be the best solution for a steering problem.

Politicians treat us to endless repetition of trite ideas and slogans that are technically incorrect and not representative of the nuances of any situation. Powerful words are compelling but often are built on revisions of history and misrepresentation. As Pat Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

A republican labeled Romney as a “co-conspirator” with Obama on health care. Another claimed that Democrats have “unlimited faith in limitless government” and they engage in “the morbid obesity of taxes and spending.” Really? People in glass houses should not throw stones!

Though handed a deficit, Democratic president Clinton (who raised taxes) was the only president to balance the budget and create a surplus. On September 30, 2002 congress allowed the Bush bipartisan 1990 anti-deficit Budget Enforcement Act to expire. This act required discretionary spending increases and tax cuts to be offset elsewhere within the budget. Thirty years of exporting American jobs that produce and add value shifted our economy to one relying on consumption. Deregulation, the republican tax cuts of Bush, and his failure to veto a single spending bill in nearly 6 years set the stage for the great recession. Consumers were over exuberant. Reputable financial magazines were predicting the stock market at 18,000 and that you “just could not lose” in real estate one month before the crash. It was not your father’s kind of banker. Banks could wheel and deal in investments and leverage increased imprudently. Wall Street had come up with a shell-game pyramid scheme. It is hard to do the right thing when you are making money.

Bush’s dogmatically conservative Republican administration engineered the 700 billion dollar wall-street bail-out and rescued them. However, the estimated 2.5 trillion dollar credit default bomb erased home values. The stock market largely recovered but banks were failing and would not loan. Now Alan Greenspan, the retired libertarian republican Fed chairman, admits that he was wrong about regulation. He says tax increases are necessary to fix the deficit.

Where you are at depends on where you have been. There is no undoing. Many thought that homes were tangible and had real value and not the volatile phantom wealth characteristic of the stock-market. They had too many of their eggs in one basket. They learned that their home was not the secure piggy bank that they thought it was. The rapidly growing number of retiring baby-boomers and laid-off workers were not spending depriving, government and business of revenue. This was the legacy that was handed to President Obama.

We know that both Republicans and Democrats regarded the crash as an exceptional situation that could not be treated as usual. Economists argue that the stimulus was necessary to avoid another world-wide great depression.

Taxes and spending are not what is morbidly obese. People who struggle with this medical condition take it seriously. Two thirds of Americans are overweight. Just over 34% of American adults are obese (up from 15% in the late 70’s). Stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer will consequently increase. The baby-boom generation will get old, sick, and die and their numbers are great. A demographer has described it as a snake swallowing a rabbit. We know that cost effective health-care has to focus on prevention or health management instead of disease management. Many cannot afford health insurance. Their friends and the church won’t be able to take care of them.

Jimmy Buffet’s 1978 song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” with mustard, onion slice, lettuce, pickle and tomato is obsolete. Now it has mayonnaise, triple cheese, bacon, hold everything else including the bun. Ronald Reagan would say that government is not to protect us from ourselves but rather to protect us from each other. However this problem impacts everyone.

Suppose we had a “business government”. First we have to do away with political parties. We hire the most qualified people, not true believers of any philosophy, religion, or politics. There are quantitative goals and objectives that will be measured according to previously agreed-upon metrics at a defined time and place. We recognize that all of our team members are honorable, intelligent, respected people of principle. The project champion values their critique. No one works at the company in order to make it fail. The role of the project champion is to defend, motivate, direct, and monitor the program with the help of many professionals who have deep knowledge.

Project parameters are discussed and cooperatively fine-tuned. Once a project is approved, such as health care, everyone tries to make it work. Those who go out of their way to cause project failure are dismissed. A future project might take a different route, but for now all must give the project a chance. Administrators and policies of programs in trouble would be closely examined. The new management will likely not embrace the old paradigm.

Few complex projects are free of complications. The project has contingency plans for dealing with uncertainties. Brinksmanship is not relied upon as a motivator. Solutions are not at their best when created under duress and in a panic. Flexible programs are revised. We enjoy being wrong when it is in our favor and will flip-flop on issues every time when that breeds success of the program.

So, what are the things in our government that differ from the business ethos? Could more business discipline help America? 

(Editor's note: We welcome intelligent contributions from across the political spectrum.  Send them to

1 comment:

Noble said...

Ever since the old political days of Everett Dirksen, Sam Rayburn, et al,there has been a slow but deliberate shift in what might be called the "respectfull manners" of doing business in Congress. Most likely, television is at the root cause. Politicians operate in glass houses today and can longer come together as respectful adversaries in a private setting to resolve issues. They must "play to the audience" in order to keep their jobs. Demogodgery has replaced thoughtful rhetoric. Intractability is now held in high regard.

The "Old Days" were far from perfect, and often led to some pretty egregious offences of their own, but it has always seemed that underlying all the theater was a commonly held love and respect for high principles, especially when unity for a desperately needed cause was in order. Today, it appears that there are individuals in Congress so filled with megalomania that they seriously consider (insert encourage) the sinking of the Titanic in order to get rid of perceived rats.
For these people, the glass will never appear half full. These folk never risk taking a potential remedy for an illness. They are too busy reading the cautions concerning side effects. It is the generation of the quick slogan and repeated sound bites. All bluster - no responsible leadership.
And don't blame them entirely. The general public is unwittingly demanding that they operate
in this manner.
It was, only recently unthinkable that the United States could possibly fail and go down as just another experiment in government.
We have, however, finally managed to elect Nero and his friends to preside over the biggest calamity in the history of the civilized world.