Buffalo Springfield, making a cake and fixing an economy
In 1967, the folk rock group Buffalo Springfield (Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, and Jim Messina) hit the turbulent scene with “Somethings Happening Here,” an anti-Vietnam War protest song that began “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.” Then the melody: “I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.” (To listen/view the monumental icon of an era: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehzRS8mZOFM&feature=related)Déjà vu all over again, the way the lyrics back then were so apropos of the Bush/neocon GOP years 2001 through even today seem marching into, and bending, our children’s tomorrows.
But at least back then we had an economy and folks and the economy were working.
Let’s say you’re going to bake a good cake from scratch, what do you need; sifted flour, sugar, eggs, some salt and some vanilla, maybe a few other ingredients, depending on whether it’s going to be chocolate or vanilla or lemon . . . what have you? When you’re all done, and have tasted your effort, and have concluded that it really is a good cake, do you remark, if only to yourself, “Man, that’s really great tasting flour, or those eggs taste fantastic, or, wow, wonderful salt?” You don’t, and the reason you don’t is because it’s all of a piece. Regardless that everything went into it individually, everything came together to make of it what it what it came to be.
An economy is pretty much like that.
The administration a few days ago strode into GM headquarters and ushered CEO Rick Wagoner out. The administration didn’t like the structure of the auto manufacturer’s restructuring scheme. Not saying who’s right, who’s wrong, and whether anyone in between is much one direction or the other, but one of the administration’s leaked sentiments was that corporate hadn’t dealt strongly enough with the UAW, that it hadn’t extracted adequate give-back from the unionized workers. Now, let’s think about the basics of that.
First off, the UAW does not consist of an agglomeration of robotic, lifeless, soulless HAL’s. It’s people; people with families and obligations and hopes and dreams and fears. Every bit as much Shakespeare’s Shylock and you and everyone you know, tickle them and they laugh, poison them and they die, and wrong them and they revenge. And for years they have given back.
Try, if you can, to vicariously slip into their skin. Now you’re against a wall that has no give to it. Your entire perspective switches from positive to positively one of survival. Janis Joplin, in “Me and Bobby McGee” warbled that “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” When you’ve lost your job and don’t have prospects for another, when you’ve lost your home, and your car, and are in a beggar’s spot for your next meal, and you’ve lost hope, and don’t see much in those veins for your kids: You really don’t give the first damn that your sacrifices are on behalf of either the common good or anyone else’s. Whether the company or the country falls become of but amusing notes that fail entirely to amuse you. You’ve got more immediate and intimate concerns to be concerned about. Your demeanor is more akin to the mother grisly protecting her cubs than Mother Theresa.
Getting tougher with the UAW would get little for GM, or for any of the auto manufacturers. Nor would getting tougher with any union do much to ferret our way from this foul thicket of thorns. Like that cake, it’s all of a piece.
One of those pieces is this country’s wholly dysfunctional healthcare delivery system. The for-profit paradigm, with the premiums being paid for by employers, has never worked, and never will. Those premiums, now around $15,000 per insured, place a huge boulder on the back of US enterprises that renders them noncompetitive against foreign competitors. Why private enterprise has clung so tenaciously to a contrivance that so clearly works only to their disadvantage is beyond intelligent comprehension. Before moving against American workers, the most promising restorative step would be to lift that boulder from off employers.
Or, at least, both common sense and business sense suggest it ought to be the first objective. So long as employers remain weighted down, genuine recovery and the capacity to compete in the race against others who are not similarly burdened will be impossible.
An equally pressing knot to cut is that of education. Republicans have since almost the founding of the Party regarded the public funding of it as an expense, one where economies and other cost reducing elements are the sought grail, rather than as an investment in our children, in our country, and in all our futures.
Decades ago, while listening to a talk-radio discussion, the topic of the day of which was education funding, I recall several folks opining how they were retired, their children were all grown, and asking rhetorically why they should be expected to support something that no longer was a benefit to them. The query came to me, was there not some chance that at some point they’d need the services of a physician, or would be traveling across some new bridge, or would find themselves aboard some passenger jet, each and all of which would have to be designed and operated by folks who had derived their skills and knowledge in someone’s educational system? And, was the purpose of life so parochial, limited to meeting only the needs of one’s self, nothing to anyone’s future?
In 1985, the United States graduated approximately the same number of engineers as the People’s Republic of China; 67,000. Within a span of only two short decades we have fallen terribly behind. Where we matriculate thousands fewer engineers today, China enjoys the advantage of ten times as many new engineers every year.
In 1965, South Korea was a 3d world nation. Largely agrarian, few of the small towns had electric service, or telephone service, or even water and sewage. Today the country is the most connected on earth for Internet and cell phone service. LG is the world’s largest producer of CDMA handsets, DVD players, optical storage devices, and much, much more. In 1965, outside Seoul and Pusan, paved roads were virtually nonexistent. Today, the country is the fifth largest auto manufacturer in the world.
While the US spirals downward, leading every industrialized nation in its percentage of high school dropouts, everyone else gets it. Education is not an expense, it is an essential investment, perhaps the most essential one of all. Indeed, were it not for the immigration into the US of highly educated, highly qualified folks from China, from India, from Europe there would be no Silicon Valley, no Research Triangle in North Carolina, no hope whatsoever for American auto manufacturers and aircraft manufacturers and every other technical dependent industry, which is to say, every industry.