A Market Economy Gone Rogue

I am a lifelong ‘market economy’ supporter, a guy who thinks
the major force behind our national success is surely part multi-ethnic, part
individual opportunity, part regulatory simplicity, but mostly developing
markets where they did not exist. The automobile may have been born in Germany
but it saw its explosive growth in America. We pretty much invented and
expanded the middle class to power the consumer engine, without which, market
economy means the ancient vegetables-in-the-town-square model. There are, by
the way, still vegetable markets in most of the town squares in Europe.

I applaud Henry Ford’s ‘Five Dollar Day’ as one of the major
achievements of the 20th century. Henry knew that there’d never be
enough customers for his cars unless the guy on the assembly line was able to
buy one. Henry was a genius, a nut and a near-fascist, but he had that idea nailed
and the market economy can name his five-buck day as well as any other for a
birthdate.

But somehow it’s all gone off the rails and instead of
innovating, developing and marketing, we’ve skipped the first two and gone
directly to the last. Innovation and development were Ford’s long suits and he
actually wasn’t much of a marketer, offering his cars in any color so long as
it was black. Yet Ford and Edison, Whitney and Wright, Fuller and Salk are as
much our founding fathers as Jefferson and Hamilton. These were product men,
whether the product was flight or vaccine or a way to gin cotton. You had to
stand back not to get run down by their success and yet it has become the
fashion and the profit motive these days to flog the success ahead of the
development
and thus we’ve suffered through

  • drug
         adverts that require whole pages
         of disclaimers in glossy, feel-good double-page spreads and are then
         pulled from the market because they kill people
  • wars
         and political races that are ‘sold’ to us like patent medicine and bear
         little or no reality to fact
  • misnomers
         on a grand scale, as hundreds of ‘Concerned Citizens for this or that…”
         turn out to be organizations that are industry-sponsored to fight the very
         regulation their false names imply
  • spin
         specialists that bend and warp and constrict truths in such a way that
         right and wrong become interchangeable, subject to whomsoever has the last
         and loudest word
  • a
         pervasive feeling that nothing we hear or see any longer bears so much as
         a nodding acquaintance with fact
  • the
         degradation of trust in our trust-icons; doctors, lawyers, police,
         politicians, teachers, parents, newspapers, television personalities and
         even (perhaps principally) the clergy

We have become untrusting of one another as well, on the
edge of a national paranoia. These past several political campaigns, airing
some very ordinary differences between long-held political positions, were
vindictive and personal in the extreme. The irony is that core American beliefs
are not all that much changed and we see ourselves in the rosy glow of hope and
freedom and purpose—it’s the other guy who’s hell-bent upon the
destruction of the republic. That, I would posit, is the direct and
uncomfortable result of marketing our differences red and blue.

Presidents are shameless band-waggoners and this president,
more than any in memory, has jumped on the lead-horse of rhetoric over substance—saying
it like it isn’t. The Big Lie repeated until it’s gotten used to by
politicians, newspapers, oil companies, ‘green’ sounding organizations, school
boards, corporate boards, husbands, wives, children and all those who make a
buck from unrealistic expectation. Who really believes we can have a war and
not pay for it, give trillions in tax breaks and never notice the revenue
shortfall, put off environmental issues until we’re knee deep in arctic melt
and make of the world a shell-game?

Like all social leakage, it’s our own damned fault that the
air is let out of the American balloon. We pander to our lesser angels, consistently opting for credit over
cash, the instant for the delayed, the comfortable belief instead of the
difficult reality. And we’re good people doing this—the president does
not wish bad things for the country, but it’s just no fun to ask citizens to
give something immediate up for the long-term benefit. It’s become perfectly
acceptable to lie, to let the next guy handle that and the next and the next
until there are no nexts left.

I have no idea how we re-assert research and
development into the market economy equation, other than to demand
accountability. It’s tough, because you
put a country to sleep citizen by citizen but it’s impossible to wake them the
same way. They only wake in collective
hysteria when the water is already knee-deep.

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