Friday, February 11, 2011

"Everyone is mad today. Be Happy"

“Everyone is mad today. Be Happy”, said Jeff Immelt, Chairman of the Board for General Electric. Mr. Immelt was quoted while participating in the Montana Economic Development Conference organized by Sen. Max Baucus. Mr. Immelt was in famous company along with CEO of Microsoft Steve Balmer and famous investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway also participating in the conference.

Although all three key business leaders expressed many interesting points about the current state of the economy and what we need to do to improve it, I began this column with probably the least impressive quote but to me the one that says the most. It reminds me of the famous marketing line for Nike from a few years ago – Just do it!

Thinking about this unique and difficult time that we are in economically, I feel some of the answers needed to jump start our economy are somewhat simple. The first is for the federal government to stop spending more than it takes in. Our congressman and senators at the federal level need to bury all of their party rhetoric and agree to a few simple guiding principles:
• Hold spending to at least to the level that current revenues will pay for (can you say balanced budget?).
• Agree that earmarks or any funding for typical pork barrel projects must be larger than a state can afford to do (how many projects would meet that standard).
• If a project must be done because it is larger than state resources can afford, a grant must be applied for and approved by an authority separate from a congressman or senator’s own approval.

Everyone is mad today. Politicians are mad and angry and are acting like little children because they are not getting their way in this divisive atmosphere of political theater. Citizens are angry because those elected to lead (I use that term loosely) are not leading. They are fighting over the petty while real problems get neglected. And of course the media, rather than reporting the news, they are choosing sides and are just as partisan as those they are reporting on.

Immelt goes on to suggest that the US will have to or is being restructured because our economy has been and is systemically organized on a system that is not sustainable. He argues that the US economy since the 1970s has been built on consumer credit and the misguided notion that we could be a “lazy” service-based economy. Immelt says, “It was just wrong. It was stupid. It was insane.” He goes on to say, “the future of the economy has to be as an exporter.”

By the way all of this information was in a very good column in the Daily Citizen by Matt Gouras, an Associated Press writer. The column is well written and outlines much more of what was offered by the conference and what these influential business leaders had to say.

My focus on the conference and what the participants had to say was to dive a little deeper into the suggestions they offered. I totally agree that the last forty years of “economic success” has been a house of cards. Living above your means as an everyday citizen and building an economy on consumer credit by a nation are equally foolish. I think most people who look at these propositions from a distance would all agree.

But even as we know that our recent past has dug us into a tremendous hole, our elected leaders at the federal level and in many states are still living in the same vain. Are they fiscally responsible? No, they are living on credit and debt.

What jobs are being created? Government jobs minus those in healthcare (which will soon be government) are the only jobs being created. Government jobs are service jobs – they do not create anything. You cannot export government. Don’t get me wrong, service jobs are need, but when they are the only source of job creation, you lose the ability to withstand the ups and downs of a global economy.

I conclude by saying that given we live in a manufacturing community, we have a tremendous opportunity to lead our state and our country out of the economic state that we are in. Our local flooring industry makes wonderful and needed floor-covering products. We need to protect and improve the business climate that our local businesses operate in. Let’s not waste the learning this difficult period has given us. Instead of Don’t worry – Be Happy, I propose that we do something and be happy! Or as David Star Jordan once said, “Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.”

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