Monday, September 24, 2012
The "Too Big to
Coming soon to a theater (somewhat) near you or in a nearby state.
JUST HAS TO BE THE RIGHT HIT. Nuts and bolts sometimes trump grand philosophies. My whole point in this post. If you get the depths of that statement, no need to read further. If you're not sure, I've got a parable for you. A real life parable.
Points I'll stipulate up front. I've written harsh things about "moderates." At the moment Romney is under attack from committed conservatives, libertarians, and objectivists on the grounds that he's unwilling to bloody his hands in the campaign against Obama because he's, at base, let's face it, a moderate.
I feel very much the same way. I want the man to grow a spine, I want him to show some Jack Dempsey, some Rocky Marciano, and wade in with uppercuts, right crosses, and left hooks. Which is a "Luxury" I have, along with all my fellow disgruntled citizens. Because I'm not facing the consequences of actually winning and having to govern a nation that's been torn in half for well over a decade. Why I have to concede that there's a definition of moderate I left off my old list. And why the parable should be a lesson to both left and right, with a hint of why Romney might be smarter than any of us thinks he is.
In 1972, a brand new American Airlines DC-10, the first jumbo jet, takes off from Detroit and runs into an immediate emergency:
Watch it all, but if you're impatient, watch first 2 min, then skip to 30 min in.
It's called tombstone technology. Make a big enough mistake, however small, and people die. A phenomenon not peculiar to the airline industry but one which characterizes it. What's the lesson? A challenge to both right and left on the subject of capitalism. It's no longer a theoretical issue. People do die because of business decisions. The definition, I guess, of a parable in the modern age. Randians, for example, would argue that the company which failed to make changes in its own self-interest was doomed by its own decision-making. And their perspective would be vindicated by the ultimate failure of McDonnell Douglass (subsumed by Boeing). Liberals would argue that the lack of government authority over private sector profiteers resulted in more than 300 unnecessary deaths. Who's right? Both and neither.
If you've watched as many 'air disaster' and 'air emergency' shows as I have, you begin to see that the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) are the good guys. They're called in to investigate air accidents all over the world because those accidents involve American victims, American aircraft manufacturers, or significantly, countries whose expertise is not up to the task. When a Boeing jet owned by a French airline crashes in Colombia with a load of passengers from Japan or Venezuela, politics immediately intrudes. The NTSB brings only its own stolid professionalism to the situation, and their function is a legitimate manifestation of the American federal government. This, I'm thinking, is a big chunk of ordinary resistance to the idea that limited government means staying the hell out of everything that affects private enterprise. People, quite properly, trust this aspect of federal intervention in free enterprise. It helps keep them safe. They rely on it, not foolishly.
On the other hand, government agencies are also complicit in the decision making that killed more than 300 passengers on a DC-10 in 1974. The NTSB sent its professional recommendation to a political FAA that changed stern engineering warnings into a handshake deal between one-percenters. McDonnell-Douglass was deemed by top bureaucrats "too big to fail." So much was riding on the success of the first jumbo jet that federal bureaucrats overlooked their responsibilities and allowed corners to be cut. Authority they had to remedy private sector negligence was not exercised. One could easily see that as crony capitalism. Or a precursor of TARP.
The point of a parable. Where is the right? Is it absolute, ideological, is perfection achievable? Remember that the result of your answer is the 300+ unrecognizable bodies from a 1974 crash.
Which paves the way to a glimpse of the pragmatic moderate. And, yeah, I'm talking about Romney.
The biggest fallacy in the assessment of candidates who are latecomers to 'professional politics' is that they have no experience of politics. The world of business is also pervaded by politics. There are two stereotypes which dominate the business incarnation of politics: the man who offends everyone and succeeds by dint of his alpha dominance; and the man who offends no one and succeeds by continuously holding his fire, watching, learning even from his opponents, and building consensus support for his own equally egotistical and ruthless priorities. In Romney, it appears we have the second of the two stereotypes. In short, yeah, he sees limits to self-interest and a government role in caring for the defenseless. Hence RomneyCare.
What does this mean politically, and specifically, in terms of our parable?
You can arrive at your own answers. Here are mine. There's no such thing as too big to fail, unless we're talking about the United States of America. Companies, however big, that don't earn a profit are the makers of their own destiny. On the other hand, even with a devout belief in free private enterprise, there is still a role for government, places where the expert hand can play an impartial and non-profit-oriented role. Which is entirely consistent with Romney's religious and personal history and his propensity for charity to the less fortunate.
My closing question? What do you think Romney would have done to McDonnell-Douglass when he found out they had knowingly manufactured a faulty jumbo jet door? That distance we keep seeing in him? I think that's a sign he would have lowered the boom on them all. Firing people is part of the distance we see in successful executives. When we cook pancakes, we're thinking pancakes. They're thinking duties and responsibilities even when they pat the kid on the head. Because wrong is wrong and bad business besides. And if government had to be part of the redress, he would have used government. Just being there is no reason to keep a bad company alive.
In the meantime, he's not in the business of making enemies. He would like, from Day One, to be able to call his opponents and say, "Let's have a meeting. We have work to do. To get this sinking ship back on an even keel." He can't do that if he's trashed all the ship's crew on the way to the captaincy. A luxury he doesn't want to afford....
...unless he has to. Conservatives? Libertarians? Time is yours. (But stay tuned for Part 2.)