The layoff notices came right after Thanksgiving. GM, a symbol of American industry, was going to close four US plants and can over 14,000 workers. Despite the relatively low numbers of people involved, the symbolic value is tremendous. The company was once the symbol of American manufacturing might. Besides, after a bankruptcy and government bailout the company surely has had what it needs to bounce back, right?
Yet there is much more to the story than this. Automobile manufacturing is in a period of massive, completely disruptive change. GM has been in trouble for a very long time simply because it cannot possibly change, and there are reasons to believe that everything is only going to be worse.
Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, has been trying to explain the situation to members of Congress this week. It’s unlikely that she can, especially since the very fact that she is obliged to do so points to the real problem. The national industrial model is dead, and it is being replaced with a global market model. GM’s problem is that it simply has not adapted to this reality in any important way.
Long ago, I would occasionally write “news poems,” or silly li’l rhymes on current events. This one, from a full ten years ago, highlights just how bad things were then. This reminder of Christmas past is intended to help everyone get through the difficult times in the stock market which are surely a part of 2018’s present and future as a brand new bubble bursts.
‘Twas the hours before trading, and there on the screen
The markets abroad were all tranquil and green;
In Europe and Asia they each held to their course,
With decent increases in bourse after bourse.
But yet I couldn’t sleep in the dark of the night
Knowing somewhere that something just possibly might
Take a dive, though the hour was terribly late
For the year wasn’t over, this bad two-oh-oh-eight.
While sorting out the goals and needs of People’s Economics, one thing stands out: how do we wind up with some general agreement on the system(s) of our world? That’s where this piece, first run two years ago, comes in.
Driving down the interstate, your safe travel and even your life depends a lot on the competence of many other people. Sure, there is a body of law and court precedent and paid agreements with insurance companies that enforces the basic codes of decency and safety. But in the end it really comes down to the skill and attention of comrades in gasoline and steel being at their best not just casually but constantly.
Of course this fails from time to time, but considering how much time people spend behind the wheel it’s amazingly seamless and simple. The system largely works – we all get there nearly all the time. We depend on each other to not be stupid and the vast majority of the time it comes together.
This basic lesson in civics is a good place to start as the nation unravels into some kind of dark hole that frankly promises to only become darker with time. It’s a thought experiment, a self-taught lesson worth thinking through by malcontents and eggheads alike, by both those in power and those in pain.
Christmas is a time for remembering everything that has come before us. It’s not a kind of memorial day when we remember what we lost, but instead a day to remember the great gifts that have come to us over the many years. The circle of gratitude is widened every year as the holiday expands with new love and new memories.
It may be more important this year than ever.
One tradition for many people about my age is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. In many ways this defines the tension of Christmas itself, even though very little in popular culture has been willing to decry the commercialism that is the true “War on Christmas”. And in the process it gave us a new definition of holiday cheer, bringing Vince Guaraldi’s cool jazz into the warm holiday like a sprig of winter itself.
This piece is a re-run from over nine years ago, but it has been fleshed out considerably as People’s Economics. The topic at hand is 52 years old, so none of this is new. And yet we still aren’t exactly sure as to how we need to implement this “knowledge economy” in a way that truly benefits everyone. This was part of a series from 2009 entitled “Systemic Connections” and if you have some time the whole series is still worth a read.
The art and skill needed to put knowledge to practical use is more than just what technology is really about – it’s generally seen an increasing share of our economy. The term “Knowledge Economy” comes from Peter Drucker in his 1966 book, “The Age of Discontinuity”. It includes this:
“In a knowledge economy where skill is based on knowledge, and where technology and economy are likely to change fast . . . the only meaningful job security is the capacity to learn fast.”
True enough, since a lot of knowledge applied as an art went to revolutionizing economics itself since that time. But as many of us have learned, the ability to think fast means nothing without the right connections.
In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise if flung back in time to the year 2063 and has to return home. They quickly realize that this is a very important time because it is the moment that the Earth made first contact with Vulcan, setting up the entire universe as they would all come to know it. The great abundance, the wonder, the adventure all hinged on this one moment.
There was one problem, however. Earth, at that time, still used this thing called “money.” The great abundance had not yet kicked in and the crew of the Enterprise had a lot to learn about how to get things done if they wanted to get home.
It’s a great movie for many reasons, generally starting with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. But this vision of the future, made at that moment, is particularly compelling. Abundance so great that money isn’t necessary? It’s one vision of the future, certainly. But is such a thing possible?
The suffix -ism is one of those handy things inherited from the versatile Greek language. The original usage was the creation of an active noun from a verb, such as baptism or criticism. It makes an action into a thing, allowing it to become a subject or object.
More recently, this suffix has taken on the use of defining a philosophy, often a political practice. It is a way of taking a series of beliefs or practices and putting them into a box which can be delivered as one unique practice. Far from making an active subject, in practical terms it becomes most useful as a way of preventing any action at all.
The great -isms of political economics are Socialism and Capitalism. The boxes these words describe were fixed long ago and remain rigid. Yet they retain their power to an opposing tribe and thus remain in use. It’s long past time to dump the -isms, useful as this linguistic construction once was.