Logistically Speaking: Check Your Pockets – A Politician's Hand May be Inside

Jan. 10, 2013
Fixing what's wrong with manufacturing will be a lot easier than fixing what's wrong with the U.S. political process.

In the run-up to the Hollywood award season, a lot of praise has been showered on Daniel Day-Lewis for his portrayal of the 16th U.S. President in “Lincoln.” Day-Lewis had the difficult task of humanizing somebody who long ago became a veritable larger-than-life icon, and if anything he managed to make Lincoln seem more personable by showing us his quirkiness.

Without taking anything away from Day-Lewis, though, I have to applaud the star of another recent movie who, rather than personifying just a single politician managed to capture the entire Washington culture in his performance. His role brilliantly emphasized the dichotomies between the two eternally-at-odds political parties, while subtly revealing that they are not only cut from the same cloth but are so schizophrenic that they don't even realize how alike they are. Above all, what his performance demonstrated was the consuming greed for power that both political parties share, and he brilliantly conveyed how they're driven to desperate means whenever their grasp on that precious power is threatened. I'm speaking, of course, about Gollum from “The Hobbit.”

In his reptilian, charismatic twitchiness, Gollum perfectly embodies today's politicians, who in the same breath can both pledge to do all they can to help their constituents while also plotting to sink their hands as deep into their constituents' pockets as possible. I realize the analogy only goes so far, though: Gollum, after all, is a creature that evokes our pity even as we cringe at his actions; on the other hand, when it comes to politicians, the only pity we can muster is for  ourselves.

Take the recent “fiscal cliff” debacle… please. Not only was this exercise in political theater totally fabricated by politicians looking solely after their own self interests rather than the country's, but the so-called deal they struck well past the deadline looks to be but the harbinger of even worse deals to come. As Alan Beaulieu, chief economist of ITR Economics, sums up the fiscal cliff deal, taxes were raised significantly; slight cuts were agreed upon; and the “can was kicked down the road” for two more months of talks on spending cuts.

Beaulieu is especially aghast at the trade-off ratio: one dollar in cuts for every 41 dollars in tax hikes, which he describes as “a terrible idea, but one we will have to live with… for now.”

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), isn't terribly impressed with the politics behind the fiscal cliff deal, either. “While the legislation passed by Congress contains some positive tax provisions for manufacturers, entitlement and wasteful government spending are not touched,” he observes. “The President and Congress must get a grip on entitlement and wasteful spending and establish a path forward that will allow us to enact pro-growth policies to keep us the most competitive country in the world.”

In a recent manifesto on how to restore U.S. manufacturing to something even remotely resembling its former glory days, NAM points out that due to U.S. policies on taxes, energy, tort and trade, it is 20% more expensive to do business here than in the nine countries who are our largest trading partners. To bring about a manufacturing renaissance, NAM is recommending the strategic pursuit of four goals:

  1. The United States will be the best place in the world to manufacture and attract foreign direct investment.
  2. The United States will expand access to global markets to enable manufacturers to reach the 95% of consumers who live outside our borders.
  3. Manufacturers in the United States will have the workforce that the 21st-century economy requires.
  4. Manufacturers in the United States will be the world's leading innovators.

All lofty goals, to be sure, and I hope NAM is fully prepared to propel manufacturing forward despite the reality that our political process as it's currently configured is fully capable of preventing us from achieving any of those goals. The best hope for manufacturers is not to pursue some elusive fantasy where politicians suddenly develop spines and wisdom, but to adhere to supply chain management best practices that will allow them to compete and win in today's global marketplace.

Follow me on Twitter @supplychaindave.

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