Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Fix for Michigan

When we're faced with something broken, we're supposed to fix it. This is a cardinal law of the handyman code, or at least it should be. Another part of this "law" is that we use the right parts and techniques for the job, or least use the most beneficial and cost-effective methodology possible. When a vehicle I was working on had two bolts cross-thread into the engine cradle, I had a lot of ways to do it. One way would have been to drop the cradle or hoist the car up, tapping the threads and then having to contend with a broken tap or trying to get the cradle back on the frame.

Either process would have been costly and time consuming and in the case of a broken tap, probably would have sidelined the car an extended amount of time. What I did was run two longer bolts through the cradle and installed a nut on the bottom side. It saved me hours when the weather wasn't cooperating and some money to boot.

Michigan has a similar problem and it's that of needing jobs for the masses. Conventional wisdom has been to throw money at the problem. The ways can be in tax breaks to "new" firms, retraining the workforce to work at different jobs, creating "make work" or just resigning the state to pay people for protracted periods of unemployment.

Inherently, there are serious drawbacks to all of these "solutions" that no one deserving re-election should overlook. Management consulting is a service I am fully capable of offering and I have had some time to analyse these adverse outcomes. Tax breaks are not a sure fire way to retain jobs, as a firm can still elect to move jobs to India. Retraining the workforce is very expensive on a personal and societal level. Individuals financing these costs still have to deal with compromising financial positions and society suffers because of a shortage of key people. Not everyone can be a computer programmer, manager or Internet security specialist. Not everyone has the willingness to commit to retrain. I'm still feeling the effects of retraining and the cost of time and money was daunting.

Make work and paying unemployment compensation are stop gap measures that do not address the root problems associated with unemployment in the first place. A shortage of jobs that people can perform for a living wage is the problem. However, the root of the problem is the lack of a supporting industry or industries that can fuel growth.

Too many manufacturing jobs are going overseas and part of the reason could be that too many features are being demanded by consumers to allow for a profit margin. Right now, I can buy a plain Jane mug made in the U.S.A. or a feature-packed one made in the People's Communist Dictatorship of China.

Shoes are another thing we seldom think about, but depend on more than our cars. I'm literally a pair of shoes away from being disabled every morning due to plantar fascitis, but all the shoes available are made in the Chi Com land with slave labor and are wholly inadequate for arch support. All the while we have people on the bench who could be making some quality footwear, for the common man, woman and child. Coats, hats and mittens are items we need here for six months out of the year, along with boots and other winter wear. Why not make this stuff in Michigan too?

Cars are still a staple industry in the Wolverine State, but too many are out of reach of the average consumer, unless he or she puts him or herself in debt for five to seven years, ouch. The solution is to build a "people's car" for Michigan. One with few frills or options, but one that can be easily retrofitted to customer tastes. Automakers should stick with basics and leave mood lighting (a kitschy 1970s conversion van option) to the aftermarket, which would provide more jobs.

This car should be simple and durable for Michigan's rough climate and able to hold up to road salt and the ever-present potholes with minimal repair costs. As it stands now, there are hundreds of parts to a modern auto and few are less than $50 to $100 when they fail. Cars and trucks that last 20 years elsewhere last five to seven years in Michigan. The less complicated devices hold up best to adverse conditions. Michigan is an adverse condition by default.

Okay, okay, there are a lot of things to iron out, but people should be able to afford what they make or provide a service for. Cars, houses and clothing are things that few of us can do without, yet fewer can afford them. Credit was the answer, but is now a huge problem. Let's make things that don't require a loan to pay for, even on the most modest of means. I know it's a crazy 21st century idea, but it just might work.

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