Saturday, June 20, 2009

American Dysfunction

I'm thinking about where we are and where we seem to be headed in this once great nation. Our daughter and her husband and kids were on a flight from Charlotte to Chicago, and then on to Minneapolis on a second flight, all American Airlines. Their first flight arrived late, and they had to rush to the gate of their second flight. The second flight was still at the gate. Whew, just in time. Except that the gate police (more American Airlines staff) refused to allow them to board the flight. Yeah, the plane is sitting there. The same airline had delayed them getting in and was now denying them a chance to board their flight. Way to go American Airlines, yet another minor piece of evidence that our airline industry resembles our banking industry, which resembles our auto industry, which resembles our mortgage industry . . . but you get the point. We don't seem to do anything well any longer . . . except maybe blow things up.
Some financial commentator (he happened to be a Republican) commented a while back that he had told everyone several years ago that the financial industry was going to collapse, because it was obvious to him that you could not operate the way they were operating without catastrophic results. Turns out he was right. He also said something I have believed for a long time now--that we cannot continue to be a nation of consumers. That we actually need to begin making things. Sounds right. For a long time now, the standard response has been, "well the American economy has shifted from making things to services--we provide services." I always thought, "yeah, but Americans are almost uniquely bad at providing services". Mainly , you need to care about your customers to be good at service. Largely, aside from the dwindling array of small shopkeepers remaining in the land, we don't.
So, we apparently we can't make anything, and we are lousy at the last remaining thing we could do--service. Oh, and by service, we don't just mean waiting on people at restaurants. Mainly, we mean things like financial services . . . you know like managing investment portfolios, and creating and managing new "creative" investment opportunities . . . you know, like Mr. Madoff's creative investment approach (Ponzi). And we all know how well the creative geniuses perform after they are sent forth from the nation's business schools and Economics schools.
So, where does that leave us?
Well, we still seem to be good at developing and producing weapons of mass destruction. So, maybe we will need to focus on that last remaining field of expertise. But to whom will we sell our WMDs? Hmmm, that's a tough one. Hey, I know. That could be our entre' to detente with Iran, North Korea, and Burma (see I'm really old, I still call it Burma). I mean, they all seem to want to possess WMDs. And we continue to believe they shouldn't be able to manufacture them. So . . . a match made in Heaven (or is it Hell . . . I can never keep them straight). We produce the WMDs, ands we sell them to our newfound friends, the Arabs, the Persians, and the more isolated Asian nations.
I mean, what could go wrong???
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