What Would Henry Ford Do??

I’ve been asking myself and some of the smartest people I know this question all week and have gotten some pretty blase answers.  Maybe people are just used to me being flippant, but I’m actually quite serious about this one.  We are living in the “worst economic climate since the great depression” according to Bloomberg.com and it seems like the people driving the bus have lots of ideas, but no inspiration.

I thought of Henry Ford because he was a man who revolutionised modern society by developing the assembly line.  Before I explain this I would like to point out that I’m not thinking of Henry Ford, the flawed and imperfect man who had an anti-Semitic streak a mile wide.  I’m thinking of Henry Ford the business man.  I am not a Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, or Green Party member.  I am just a single, white, unemployed, and lost thirty year old from an upper middle class family, who is at a loss when asked what I want to do with my life.  In other words, I’m pretty average.

I’ve said before that something has got to give and being in DC I listen to NPR and I watch the news and I read the papers and all I see is more of the same.  My vote went to President Obama and for the most part, I don’t think that he’s done any more or less than John McCain would have been able to do with the steaming pile of dog poo that is our country at this juncture.  Partisanship would have happened no matter who was in office.  I do believe that the President is trying to emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt with the programs being put forward, but that he’s lacking a Herbert Hoover to compare himself with.

Before any of this, Henry Ford was developing and implementing the first automobile assembly line.  Yes this was a turn of the century development, but the many factors that pulled the US out of the great Depression started with this one development.  The massive military mobilization for WWII would not have been possible if munitions factories, metal works, and many other industries had not jumped on the efficiencies set forth by the Ford Motor Company.  The trucks and tools and raw materials needed to support the PWA programs that kept the unemployed masses working through the 1930’s would have been scarce and the Depression would have dragged on.

One of the most conservative objectivist that I’ve ever met responded to my question by saying that, ” … [Henry Ford] would create something innovative, that while perhaps not affordable to the masses, undoubtedly has trickle down effects that makes life easier and more efficient for everyone… And he gets crucified and vilified for being compensated for his contribution to society.  Maybe his wealth get re-distributed??”  Now, I don’t always agree with him, but he does have a point.  Are we vilifying the banking industry at the expense of public sector businesses that are needed to pull us out of this crisis?

The stimulus has had some good and some bad effects, where the bad equals simply being ineffectual.  There are tax cuts that Bush put in place for those earning more than $250,000 per year that are expiring and we are arguing about whether to take our pound of flesh from the rich and give to the poor.  Well, last I checked my name isn’t Maid Marian and Robin Hood doesn’t really exist.

I don’t claim to have the answers.  I do however have many questions.  If giving away money to those of us who really don’t have any isn’t priming the Keynesian pump and it’s still too soon to tell what the small business initiatives will do for the economy then what can we do?  Large corporations are taking this opportunity to streamline their businesses and “trim the fat” that they would have been crucified in the court of public opinion for doing were we not in the middle of an economic crisis.  Small businesses can’t afford to hire these displaced workers because the masses don’t exactly have disposable income.  A large portion of these displaced workers lack the technical skills to transition from white-collar to blue-collar jobs and the corporations are not exactly interested in training people to do these jobs out of the kindness of their hearts.

We are creating our own evil little catch-22.  Going back to my favorite objectivist- I’ve been thinking more about the book Atlas Shrugged.  We’ve come full circle with the world that Ayn Rand was seeing while writing this masterpiece and though I really don’t agree with her severely black and white interpretation of everything I do find myself afraid that she will turn out to be right.  The world will go to hell in a handbasket with the most capable captains of industry hiding away in the mountains with their collective wealth and waiting out the storm.

Invention is not an appealing process right now- it can take five to eight years to get a patent approved by the US Patent Offices.  In that time, your invention, if you go ahead without protections, will have been produced, sold, and then reproduced and ripped off a hundred times over.  Even Facebook.com spent three and a half years waiting for their application to get through to the approval stage and they had pretty clear intellectual property rights to the idea, no matter how long they wanted to argue with each other about who contributed to it.

I can come up with some great public spending ideas for the governments of the states as well as the US- why don’t you fully staff your government offices?!  How many times have you tried to get a licence renewed or licence plates changed and waited a century in a little plastic chair only to be told that you need some random form that none of the information in your research told you that you would need?  Here’s a novel idea- get a help desk agent just to answer the phones and give people the correct information.

As a new entrant into the realm of filing for unemployment I can safely tell you that at no point in time did I get a person on the phone (even when told to call) in less than forty-five minutes.  They are overloaded with millions of newly unemployed people.  Wait, I have an idea- HIRE ONE OF THE UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE TO STAFF THE UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICES!  Seriously, people this is not rocket science.

I heard the figure the other day that military spending is only 4% of GDP and I found myself more angry than relieved.  If that’s truly the case, then where the heck is the other 96% of our GDP going?  Even the Baltimore Sun is reporting that the TARP is probably going to cost the country about $50 billion of the $700 billion that was approved by the Bush congress and I just don’t get it.

I’m not a christian.  I’m not a Muslim.  I still respect the commandment/lesson that exists in both- Treat others the way that you would like to be treated.  The golden rule.  This is the dream of an idealist, but at this point I really don’t have much to fall back on other than my ideals.  Henry Ford did do business in a way that reflects the truism that if you take care of your workers, the workers take care of the business and the customers, and the customers keep coming back.  He paid his workers good wages and he probably did more to encourage the auto-workers union than he would have liked.

So, who will be the next Henry Ford?  What will be the next assembly line?  If we can’t answer these questions or support the genius needed to make it happen, then maybe we should just board one of Ragnar’s pirate ships and take the world back to the stone age.  Maybe that way, we could at least have hope that there is something better in the future.

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