One of my favorite movies is Mel Brook’s History of the World, Part I. There is a classic scene where Mel’s character, Comicus, is about to be thrown in with the lions and the clerk asks him his profession. Comicus says he’s a Stand-up Philosopher, to which the clerk responds “Oh, a bullshit artist”. That phrase pretty much summarizes the state of America today. We have become a nation of Bullshit Artists.
I read two very interesting articles recently which synergized nicely with one of the books of I’ve been reading. The book is Seth Godin’s Linchpin, which preaches creating a career that is a race to the top rather than a race to the bottom. The two articles are Forbe’s Why Amazon Can’t Make a Kindle in the USA and Mark Cuban’s blog post What Business is Wall Street In?
The relationship between these three became apparent when HP announced they were ditching PC’s and becoming a “services company”. That’s a nice way of saying “we failed in our race to the bottom and are going to become bullshit artists”. With the exception of a few awesome cases, most publicly traded-companies have slavishly pursued quarterly earnings at the expense of long term viability. A few rich bastards have essentially screwed over several future generations to line their own pockets today.
The key is to make things, which is what we are rapidly losing the ability to do. I was shocked to learn from the Forbes article that we can’t make numerous electronic devices or even rechargeable batteries without China. Given the next world war will be the USA + World vs China (or China + World vs USA), it is ludicrous from a national security standpoint to have eliminated such basic competence from our repertoire.
Germany is the anchor of Europe, and it is because they kept the ability to create things. There are still excellent manufacturers in this county making things, but they tend to be niche and expensive products. Some of my favorites include Goruck, Wilson Combat, Harley-Davidson, Lum-Tec, Bark River Knives, Randolph Engineering and Timbuk2. The Goruck blog is a pretty entertaining read on the pursuit of made-in-America excellence. But none of these together can come close to counterbalancing America’s lost ability to produce stuff. Your typical American CEO would happily whore out their own wives and daughters to improve quarterly earnings, and care even less about the long-term viability of our country.
We need to get back to making things. And the way to make it happen is to vote with your wallet. Look at that label the next time you make a non-trivial purchase. Why aren’t you buying that watch, or sun glasses, or anything, that wasn’t made in the USA? We didn’t win two world wars being a service economy, and your spending will decide whether we become a nation that creates things, or a nation of Bullshit Artists.