Whether it is talking to a group of company executives, speaking before a local APICS chapter, or writing the blog, there is an ever present challenge in my line of work to come up with a clever, amusing, unique angle concerning American manufacturing. I learned long ago that there is a sure fire cure for the occasional bout of writer's block in the elite Eastern academic world. The Knowledge at Wharton folks can always be counted on to write something incredibly stupid. Go ahead and click here to read a story about how Toyota is really screwed by all of this economic upheaval, but they are better off than GM, and how they really didn't take over the auto industry, they just didn't go into free fall like GM, and how they have half of GM's inventory, and they haven't laid anybody off, and, and, and well – they are still really , really screwed.
A guy by the name of Mory Taylor who runs Titan Tire and had an obscure run for President a while back hit the nail on the head in explaining how it is that so many people from such prestigious institutions are in such important positions and have fouled things up so thoroughly. He said, "The biggest hoax in this country is that Harvard is going to make you smart. Harvard just gives you connections." He is absolutely right.
You might have noticed that I rail a bit about Wall Street – the mortal enemy of lean manufacturing - but as the stock market is on the trash heap, Bernie Madoff is being led off in chains, we taxpayers are sending billions to bail these clowns out, and there are 900+ fraud investigations underway, a bit of gentle, constructive criticism on my part seems justified. The fox responsible for keeping an eye on the Wall Street hen house is the SEC. Let's take a look at their history:
Bill Clinton (Georgetown, Oxford, Yale) appoints Arthur Levitt (Williams College – an elite private school in Massachusetts) who presides over the Enron debacle. Levitt is succeeded by Paul Carey (Colgate). George W Bush (Yale, Harvard) takes over and appoints Harvey Pitt (St Johns), followed by William Donaldson (Yale, Harvard). When their collective deregulation of investment banking gives us the Bear Stearns fiasco, we get Christopher Cox (Harvard MBA and Harvard Law). And of course we have a complete meltdown of the capital markets as described previously. Now we have Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard) who has put Mary Schapiro at the helm (Franklin & Marshall College, George Washington). Yeah – I know that these are not all Ivy League, but $50K a year to go rub elbows with the elite at Franklin & Marshall or Williams College assures that you are a member of the same country club as the boys and girls at Harvard and Yale.
Notice a pattern here?
The New York Stock Exchange is the same – or NYSE Euronext as it is now known following the swallowing up of all of the stock exchanges in Europe. 12 American members – 12 eastern elite academic folks. One guy dabbled in the Chicago Commodities Exchange for a while (although the UK is where he is most comfortable hanging his hat) – the rest, it would appear, have no knowledge that anything exists west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Now there is nothing wrong with the northeastern part of the US, and I am sure that all of these schools are just fine, but after a while too much of anything is too much. When we have nothing but rich folks from the northeast appointing and doing business with other rich folks from the northeast, the inevitable mutations of the DNA start to kick in.
There is an old saying that 'great minds think alike'. Probably, but I've noticed that morons think alike too. In fact, people with similar backgrounds and experiences tend to think the same, no matter what. So when a few of these eggheads get the notion that lean is just some factory fad, that outsourcing everything to China is a marvelous thing, that the Dow Jones is the only measure of the economy that matters, and that manufacturing is for the ignorant masses and that service is where the real future lies – in short, they all drink the same 'world is flat kool-aid' – well it really doesn't matter how much common sense to the contrary is coming from the heartland – NO ONE IS LISTENING! If you are in D.C. the only voices you hear are from the guys who sat next to you in the same college lectures, belong to the same tennis club you do, and drink the same brand of scotch you do at the same private club you belong to in Manhattan.
We make much noise about our lack of cultural diversity, blaming it on racism, sexism and bigotry. No doubt there is shamefully plenty of that to go around. However, thinking that we become more diverse simply by electing a black President, appointing a woman to the SEC Chairmanship, or sprinkling in a Hispanic here or there is inherently more racist. It presumes that Barrack Obama must think differently than George Bush or Bill Clinton simply because he is black. In fact, all of them are shaped more by their preppy backgrounds and the people from those preppy places with whom they have surrounded themselves, than they are by gender or skin color.
I noticed that Bill Clinton didn't look to any of the good ol' boys in Arkansas to run the economy – he looked to his old Yale cronies. And putting a cowboy hat on a guy from Phillips Academy prep school, Yale and Harvard didn't make George Bush a Texan. And Barrack Obama would be the only South Chicago homeboy to matriculate at a $17,000 a year private prep school, Columbia and Harvard. They ran back to their eastern-elite academic comfort zones when it came time to make big economic decisions, and with Obama we are roaring down the same roads. Save the bankers and brokers – who all went to the same schools and belong to the same clubs – bail out GM and its Harvard MBA CEO.
Put Timothy Geithner (Dartmouth, John Hopkins) and Lawrence Summers (President of Harvard) in charge of fixing the automotive industry. Wuddya think – are they going to endorse lean, or do you suppose they might look to the same failed Ivy League solutions? Given that both of them know all about Georgetown U, but are unlikely to be able to name a single significant idea that came out of Georgetown, KY, I am betting on the Ivy League.
According to Wikipedia, inbreeding is breeding between close relatives, whether plant or animal. If practiced repeatedly, it leads to an increase in homozygosity of a population – consisting of only a single copy of a particular gene in an otherwise diploid organism.
So that's the problem. We keep copying the Harvard gene over and over again, while the rest of us members of the Great American diploid organism – the ploid trying to re-eneregize manufacturing with common sense – are increasingly marginalized.