Thursday, December 13, 2012

Post No. 185: There are 4,389 Reasons the U.S. Economy is Suffering; Let’s Focus on the Top 28

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

According to some, those of us who are Baby Boomers are far better "educated" and "more sophisticated" than our parents. However, our parents have or had far more "sumpthin’." To this day, the 92 yr old Father of one of our Fellows speaks of the importance of understanding the "times," and "timing," concepts which are lost on today’s politicians, who reduce everything to a direct, cause and effect formula.

When the Logistician was with us, he used to tell of his days handling medical products litigation where people died in hospitals or ended up as vegetables. What always fascinated him was that there was rarely just one thing that went wrong. It was more likely that 9 or 10 things went astray at the same time.

All muck-ups in life (and those of complex, dynamic organizations) are attributable to a "confluence of events or factors." The same applies to all successes. Milan Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, refers to it as "serendipity."

Earlier today, while surfing the Twittersphere, we encountered a lady who complained about the failure of some to “follow the Constitution.” She noted that if they kept a copy in their pockets, they might do a better job of serving US interests. She kept referring to how “clear” things are in the Constitution.

Why, if they are so clear, do people continue to disagree about them? Why, if things are so clear, and attributable to one cause, can’t we as a society simply pull the magic lever and solve our problems? Are we merely arguing over who gets to pull the lever, or when? Or how?

Today, every domestic airline is accused of mismanagement. But not long ago, Pan American Airlines stood alone. Within a relatively short period of time, they bought a bunch of 747s, purchased a major piece of real estate to diversify, and the price of jet fuel went up dramatically. All 3 factors ultimately contributed to its demise. Add a 4th, the terrorist attack on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (which talking heads today would claim they should have foreseen), and you had a recipe for failure. Yep, sounds like mismanagement to us.

What is most troubling about the current political discourse is that our politicians choose, or are forced to explain in simplistic, one dimension terms, or address using simplistic, one dimension approaches, incredibly complex, global systems. Our ability to solve the complex problems of the future will only be hampered through this discourse.

That having been said, are we capable of identifying one umbrella under which we can place the majority of factors leading to our current status? We suspect the Greedy and Lazy umbrella will do just fine, as reflected in our Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered piece.

We can't help but think that growing up during the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and WWII prepared parents of Baby Boomers to be more self-disciplined.

They, for the most part, were and are financially risk-adverse. No credit default swap derivatives for them. Our 92 yr old will use one paper napkin over and over, wrinkled to the point of non-recognition – to save a few pennies. Another friend’s Mother, a Holocaust survivor, stealthily dilutes all liquid soaps and detergents when she visits, claiming the products are too concentrated, and thus wasteful.

We Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are anything but risk-adverse, and in lots of ways, that’s been a good thing. We lived through a period of incredible, economic growth and dramatic expansion of the Middle Class. However, as Irving Kristol once noted, in the realm of human affairs there are no benefits without costs.

Brian Tracy has a new book out, The Power of Discipline. In it, he has a quote from Harry E. Fosdick, "No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is funneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined." The principles are also applicable to individual citizens. We simply got too comfortable, and took our eyes off the big picture.

We do not blame our political leadership in this country for our current state of affairs. We blame the individual citizens for doing it to ourselves. Where we find fault with our elected leaders might be summed up as follows. For political expediency, they want us to believe that the problems are fairly recent, and then suggest that they can be solved by employing one or two simple tactics.

That’s just horse-manure, and all of us know it. Even more troubling is that so many of us bought that snake-oil dogma, and then re-tweeted them. It’s time for us to take personal responsibility for The Disuniting of America.

Here’s hoping that the “better educated” and “more sophisticated” college students, to whom we direct our messages, will not make the same mistakes, and will be far less gullible and irresponsible.


  1. First, let me address this about the principles in the Constitution:

    Why, if they are so clear, do people continue to disagree about them?

    Your remarks were excellent but you left one out:

    Why, if they are so clear, did we need the Supreme Court to determine what they meant?

    Yes, we Baby Boomers are anything but "risk averse" and that has both helped us and hurt us.

    But the thing I think is most important of the reasons we find ourselves in this fiscal predicament is that we seem unable (as a group) to see beyond the moment.

  2. An interesting commentary on why things are the way they are in our country/world today. I notice that you on several occasions your articles point out the differences between our elders and Baby Boomers. I am one who was born in the immediate post depression period and had an older brother and sister who were born just prior to it. I have been told of the hardships my family went through to simply
    survive those depression years and WW2 with its rationing and limited availability of many of the things considered necessary until we learned to live without them. It most certainly made our family very conscious of conservation of resources. Calling us “risk adverse” may be putting it mildly. My mother in her 90’s also refolded her paper napkins for reuse as well as her Kleenex. Nothing I would say in the years she lived with me prior to her death at 100 could convince her that she did not need to
    reuse those paper goods!

    Personally, I feel I was well educated in the need for
    personal responsibility for creating the kind of life we desired. It extended as well to our involvement in
    our society through such things as voting, community work and generally caring for our fellow human beings. Today I also keep a copy of the Constitution close at hand so I can follow the claims made by those who feel the government is abusing that document, or to try to understand what people mean when they say, “. . . take back our government.”

    Thanks for this article, which I hope, as you stated, your college readers take to heart. Well done!

  3. Thanks as always Douglas. As a general proposition, the Constitution is not very specific about anything, as is also the case with all legislation. Different jurisdictions and entities will "execute" the laws and / or "apply" them differently depending on lots of factors. As a general rule, when laws are promulgated (and the Constitution is simply the law of the entire U.S.), various administrative agencies generate rules and regulations which provide the specificity, along with court rulings on application situations which have led to litigation.

    We assume that you were referring to the U.S. Supreme Court in your inquiry. The Supreme Court, as a general proposition, only gets involved in federal or constitutional matters. Compared to the states, they do very little. They decline lots of cases per years, on the theory that it is not for them to decide. Another point, if they can find a way to avoid ruling on an issue, they will.

    The Supreme primarily handles situations where there is a conflict between different courts in different parts of the country so that there is some continuity. It's about achieving a more perfect union, but only when absolutely necessary. It is the most misunderstood branch of our government.

    We disagree with you slightly about why we find ourselves in this fiscal predicament. We think that we are able to see beyond the moment; but we think that "it will work out" and good times will continue in the not too distant future.

  4. Thanks for checking in Dan. The most significant reason that we are where we are is that we employ a "herding cats" governance model, where things are done by chance, and there is little planning and coordination. That's the choice we've made.

    Our suspicion is that "take back our government" refers to a period in time in the speaker's life where they liked or enjoyed what what was going on. It has nothing to do with the nation in its entirety. All of these cats want things to be the way they want them to be. Although we occasionally speak in "group speak" and think in "group think," we are primarily a country built on individualism. That's why all of the talk about socialism, when we are not even close to the governance (yet) of the man socialist countries.

    Hopefully college students are concerned enough about the state of the nation to get more involved and do something about it. They appear to be relatively quiet these days.

  5. Thank you for the fine description of the USSC and its practices. I would not call the Constitution the law but a framework, an outline, of how the government is constructed and what duties, limitations, and responsibilities are assigned to what parts.

    I don't think we disagree very much at all as I don't see the assumption that all will work out as much different from not thinking beyond the moment at all. That is often called 'hope" or "optimism", I believe, and I have engaged in that often enough myself.

    What I was referring to was the the willingness to believe that the good times will continue, that there are no bad times lurking just ahead, and that one will always have that good paying job and one's pay will always rise.

    And then reality reared its ugly head.

  6. Later today at 3:00 pm EST on C-Span2 Book TV, Sarah Kilbourne will discuss her great-great-grandfather, Williaim Skinner, who went from a worker in a silk mill, to the owner of his own factory and mill village, "Skinnerville," only to see if destroyed when a dam broke in 1874. She tells the story of how he rebuilt.


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