Cranking Up
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Cranking Up • Posted: Feb 06, 2011 12:04:49Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

From a consumer's point of view, it's hard to appreciate just how our economy works. Cool stuff arrives in the stores and we want to buy it. But as prices go up, we don't. Consequently, inventories pile up. Manufacturing slows. Nobody gets a raise. Some folks get laid off. Prices may drop, but they still seem out of reach. Fewer people buy. Doubt sets in. More people get laid off. The economy falls into stagnation. What's hard to appreciate is why. Who is to blame? The consumer for balking at higher prices? Retailers, producers, and workers for all wanting higher pay? Or maybe inadequate productivity and efficiency are to blame?

Do you remember the childhood party game Musical Chairs? Music plays while all the guests circle a group of chairs. When the music stops, everyone sits in a chair. But there aren't enough chairs. Those with nowhere to sit leave the game. The music resumes and one or more chairs are removed. Excitement builds and the game speeds up because no one wants to be the next person without a chair when the music stops. But if all of a sudden there were too many chairs, the game would seem pointless, no one would play, and the party would fizzle. Alternatively, with too many people eliminated from the game having nothing to do, they could revolt.

For years, the primary game within our economy has been to chase not chairs but things, as measured in dollars, or just plain dollars without regard to consequence. Now a few people have lots of dollars and the rest of us have too few. The party has fizzled and quite a few dollarpoor thingpoor folks are ready to revolt. However, recently parts of our economy have begun to revive again. Inventories have dropped. Demand is rising. Production is cranking up. Some laid off workers are being called back to work. Tax breaks, stimulus programs, more work hours, and bigger paychecks have put more dollars back into the hands of the dollarpoor. Many are pleased.

But is reviving the same old game of Musical Chairs really the best we can do? Even with fascinating new products and "enlightened, smart" supply chain management, won't it all just fizzle exactly the same way again? Plus, the disregarded consequences of population expansion, resource depletion, climate change, species extinction, toxic pollution, ignorance, and mistrust are ever more rapidly closing in on us, limiting our options. Same ole, same ole with a resurrected repolished shiny new package is, undoubtedly, not going to cut it. Too many of us chasing too few things is inevitably a prescription for world-class fizzle.

Revolutions are coming to a boil in many quarters of the world. May at least one of them show us a doable compelling way toward a fulfilling and sustainable future.

Monday, December 13th, 2010