Sunday, September 28, 2008

Yes, Bill Ford: We Still Matter

Bill Ford , the Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, where I work as a lawyer, wrote an op-ed piece this week in the Detroit Free Press entitled “Why Manufacturing Still Matters”. Bill (that may be presumptuous; I’m the type that if I were to be introduced to him in the hall or in a meeting could only address him as Mr. Ford) raises a critical topic that not only would the candidates for President do well to seriously contemplate and make a central theme of their campaigns, but something that every one of us should take to heart. While making a strong case for the importance of the automotive industry to the American economy in general and Ford’s role in particular, I think what he’s really saying is that the American way of life is in jeopardy.

Our obsession to buy the most stuff at the cheapest prices has, like most addictions, inflicted what may be permanent damage on the quality of life in America. We have put our individual selves above the well being of the community, the commonweal , at the cost of not having anyone to help us, when we get thrown out of job, because it’s been outsourced to a lower cost country. With the vast educational resources at our disposal, it flabbergasts me that so many of us have failed to make the causal link between buying stuff dirt cheap and the loss of decent paying jobs here at home. If we’re not willing to pay the price of goods and services performed by our next-door neighbors, how can we have any reasonable expectation to continue to hold our own jobs with the wages and benefits that we’ve come, if we’re honest with ourselves, to regard as entitlements.

In his opinion piece, Bill makes an allusion to how the people of other countries behave with respect to their own economies that I think deserves some explication. In many other countries, national pride and loyalty are not just topics of conversation, but something they do every day, by buying goods and relying on services that are produced locally. To be sure, the governments of some countries, such as Japan or Korea, have institutionally reinforced this preference with trade barriers and domestic advantages that violate their international commitments to liberalized trade, but I do believe that even if every one of those barriers was removed and the governments even went so far as to promote the “benefits” of buying foreign goods, we wouldn’t see much difference in their behaviors, because consciously articulated or not, I think these people “get it” that they will prosper if they take care of themselves and that their individual well-being is in the hands of the collective well-being.

As we Americans contemplate having to make serious cut-backs in our household budgets, think how nice it would be to be able to borrow a movie or book on DVD from the local public library instead of buying or even renting it. But, in many places, we can’t, because we’ve refused to pay taxes or authorize bonds that would pay for decent budgets. That’s what Bill Ford was talking about: we face the prospect of waking up some day and finding that we live in a structure surrounded by a bunch of other structures, and not a neighborhood in our town in our country in our state in our country. To me, that matters.

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