Come On Boeing! You Can Do Better Than This!

I have been wanting to write something about the current situation at Boeing, but I have been a little distracted. Previously I had written how Boeing needed to fire its CEO. They finally did it, but there is so much more they can do to correct this situation. The 737 Max has been grounded for nine months, which is the longest in the history of any US Airliner. This is a travesty for the airlines who want to fly the plane, the company and its reputation, and those of us who are stockholders. However, it is important the fix is done correctly. Everyone who works for and has worked for Boeing do not want people to lose their lives flying in our product.

Dennis Muilenburg, the previous CEO, has been replaced by David Calhoun. According to the Wall Street Journal, Calhoun is, “a long-time director with deep ties to the aviation and private-equity industries.” It appears the company may be uniting the CEO with the Chairman of the Board. Calhoun was named Boeing’s Chairman in October and will become CEO in January of 2020. He is considered a corporate fixer. At this point in time the company needs some fixing, however some criticize the choice saying he is too close to investors. On December 16, 2019 they shut down the 737 Max assembly line. With several hundred airplanes parked, the manufacturer is hemorrhaging cash as it tries to get the plane back into the air.

Everyone knows that Boeing has several challenges to face “winning back the confidence of government officials, suppliers, airlines, and the traveling public.” It will not be easy, and it will not be able to rely of hubris to get the job done. This time there will be no bullying to get its way. The customer, airlines, have lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to lost revenue from the grounded 737 Max fleet. 346 lives were lost, and it is important that the company not try to force a solution, but to trust the process set up by the regulators. One of Muilenburg’s biggest mistakes was to use press releases to pressure the FAA. Calhoun has “made it clear in public statements that they won’t get ahead of the regulators in predicting the return to service of the 737 Max.”

There does seem to be other problems with the management system of Boeing. The recent snafu with the Starliner Space Capsule was due to a misfunction of the capsule’s clock. There was a programming problem associated the clock resulting in “misinterpreting the stage of the mission.”  It resulted in burning too much fuel, keeping it from docking with the space station. There were many wins associated with this event, at least according to those who monitor such things, but with this happening at the same time as the Max fiasco, it gives an indication of some management issues within the company.

Another player in this performance is Greg Smith. He is the finance chief. He has “spent most of his career at Boeing and is well respected by the investment community.” He will serve as interim CEO until Calhoun takes over. Monday of this week Smith pledged “to chart a new direction for Boeing.” I hope this will include a resetting of its internal culture. However, there are several steps required to repair this significant damage.

Their first responsibility is to the people killed on those two crashes. According to the Guardian, Boeing has set aside $100 million to be paid to families and the communities affected by these events. These payouts will be phased over several years. Boeing has also agreed to “form partnerships with local governments and non-profit organizations to address the needs.” The company must remember that no matter what level of culpability is found with the pilots, it is ultimately Boeing’s responsibility to meet the needs of those hurt by its product. It is not enough to do no harm; in this case it is Boeing’s ethical responsibility to do good.

Secondly, Boeing needs to repair its reputation with the FAA and all of the other regulators around the world. “The FAA is not expected to approve the Max software fixes, as well as related changes to pilot training, before February.” I have a friend who flies for Southwest, and they have been asked to be a part of flight tests for the Max. The American Airlines pilot union has stated they want to see certain actions from Boeing to help rebuild the trust between pilots and Boeing.

Thirdly, Boeing needs to work with the flying public to rebuild their trust in its products. Airbus has now become the number one aircraft manufacturer in the world. As the WSJ notes, “The crisis has disadvantaged Boeing in its competition with Airbus to supply carriers in a fast-growing air travel market.” Both manufacturers have a backlog of more than 13,000 airplanes, “which represents about several years of production.” In 2019 Boeing had planned on delivering 900, which is an amazing number, including 600 737 Max jets, but due to the grounding and production shutdown it will deliver less than 400 airplanes. This is a huge hit on the company’s profitability. One other note United Airlines just bought 50 A321X’s from Airbus.

There is one other stakeholder that Boeing needs to address. The employees of Boeing have been reporting issues associated with the production tempo of the large backlog of airplanes. Management has been putting large amounts of pressure on employees to meet the schedule. Having worked for an internal supplier of machine parts to Renton and Everett, I can attest to the pressure associated with producing flight critical parts. However, we in Portland would never short cut a process to get an assembly to the flight line. We made sure every product that left our plant was correct. The management team of Boeing will need to get its employees back on its side to meet the need of this crisis. If they don’t the problems could continue to mount. I hope the management team in Seattle wakes up and smells the coffee.

As I edit my post, rereading my comments above, I am not too sure Mr. Calhoun is the right person for the job. It says he knows how to be a corporate fixer, but he just may need more crisis management skills that what he currently has. We will see.

I am proud to say that at Boeing Portland we had a team that worked together well. Many of us grew up together in the company. Some of us went into management and some of us stayed in the union. But we all wanted to do the right thing. This is what Boeing needs to get back too. I hope it does, because there are a lot of people impacted by Boeing all around the world.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

America The Imperfect

Over the last couple of years, I have been thinking about cancel cultures, woke generations, millennials, Trump, Democrats, and much more. I am trying to make sense of what my role is in this new world. I just finished watching a fantasy series where the Axis powers won WWII and have had many weird dreams about that scenario. I have decided that I have two goals in my later years. One, prepare for the afterlife and two, learn how to live as a Christian in a post-Christian society. Is not that I think America was ever a Christian nation, but it was originally conceived with principles based on the timeless truths of scripture.

In my last blog I mentioned the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had about the statue of human kingdoms. America is nothing more than another expression of that statue. Eventually, the statue will be destroyed by a rock not made of human hands. The government of Jesus Christ will eventually be established in the world. Until that time, the only thing humanity can do is create the best possible imperfect expression of that future reality. I think America was, and is an attempt at the best, although imperfect, expression of human governance.

Let’s start with the first words of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This the perfect principle that is genderless and colorless. It is only in the application of this principle that we see historical problems. Women were not afforded rights for years, and neither were African Americans. This does not negate the principle, just the application of the principle. This is why I say, we are America the Imperfect.

For years we have debated, creating amendments to the Constitution to repair the incorrect application of the self-evident truth that all Americans have certain rights. To say the principles associated with the founding of this country were wrong, or seek to deconstruct them in a way, only seeks to cancel the imperfect good that has occurred over the years.

In 1789 the Constitution of the United States was adopted as the law of the land. In lays out the structure of the federal government in its original preamble and seven articles. The preamble begins, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.” The whole purpose of this document is to create a more perfect, not perfect, union. There had been many types of government throughout history, but we were attempting something new.

This is the absolute, the principle that this country is based on. It has no stipulations in principle, but the application has been troubled and problematic. This is why we elect representatives to help repair the application. We have been working on this for 243 years. We are not done and will not be done until sometime in the future when Jesus returns.

Article I of the Constitution begins the description of the three branches of our federal government. It tells us what the role of Congress is and describes what the House of Representatives and Senate do. Article II describes the duties of the Executive branch. Article III tells us what the Judicial branch will accomplish. Article IV illuminates the relationship of states with the federal government. Article V describes how the Constitution would be Amended. Remember this is America the Imperfect, there was and will be reasons to amend how this absolute is applied. Article VI involves general requirements about oaths of allegiance, and no requirement for a religious test. Article VII describes the means of ratification. Nine of the Thirteen states would be sufficient for acceptance.

Over our short history, there have been twenty-seven amendments to repair problems with the application of the law of the land. Amendment one declares the freedom of expression and religion. Amendment two, which is being talked about quite a bit today, free to bear arms. Amendments five through nine seek to improve and understanding concerning trials and other criminal cases. Amendment thirteen eliminated slavery in this country. Amendment fifteen gave the right to vote to all citizens regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Amendment nineteen gave the right to vote to all women. Amendment twenty-two limits the President’s tenure to two terms. Amendment twenty-six lowered the voting age to eighteen. These are just the highlights of our attempt to correct some of the application problems associated with our more perfect union.

I think this is why I love my country. We are not perfect, but we are trying to correct things. It does seem like we try to get in the way of each other. But, don’t dismay, we will work though this and come out the other side stronger.

Now as a Christian, how do I interact with this. First, neither political party has a monopoly on the truth. So, to connect the Church with either party is sin and requires repentance. The Church has done this in the past and it has always gone badly. However, it does not mean that we, as individuals, do not participate in the process of government. We need to vote, campaign for our chosen candidates, do everything a citizen of the United States should do.

However, as Karl Barth alludes to the church “has its place in God.” We are “dependent on Jesus Christ as an event of God whose significance is universal and decisive for the world.” We are to represent a new picture for humanity, that of reconciliation. If we do not represent Jesus Christ in what we do, then we are not being vigilant. So how I portray myself in my home, community, workplace, and on social media becomes critical. No matter where I am acting, I am a representative of the Church, and ultimately Jesus.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated we live in a time when the “phenomenon of practical God-forgetfulness” is the dominant culture. We must help people to remember that the kingdom of God will come, and regardless of what we think about the United States it is still a part of the imperfect statue of the kingdom of man. We can never make the kingdom of man into the kingdom of God, that will only occur when the rock not made with hands comes and strikes the statue destroying it. Until then we who are a part of the Church have a job to do. We are required to accurately, although imperfectly, reflect the light of the world to those that need to see it.

Now, what is my strategy for the last ten to twenty years (Lord willing) of my life. I will read, pray, and live a reconciling life with God and those around me. In my actions I will do all I can to support the work that helps our country become a more perfect union, recognizing that it will always be incomplete. The perfect kingdom will only come with the conquering event of the second coming of Christ, but as the Church we can both proclaim the need to humans who have lost God-consciousness and try to make things better.

And that is my thought for the say

The Wisdom of Barth, Daniel, And Francis Schaeffer

Today is Christmas Day, 2019. The wife is downstairs puttering. I am in a lethargic goo due to eating a cinnamon roll. They are so good, but the sugar wipes me out. I have been thinking about writing a blog on Boeing and I will tomorrow, but today I have been thinking about a comment that someone made to me on Facebook. He said, it is one way or the other, Trump or God. I have been thinking about that comment throughout the day and decided it is a strawman. It is a façade. It is whatever cliché needed to demonstrate that it is untrue. But, even more important, it demonstrates the danger associated with the blending of theology with resistance. Karl Barth thought about that a bit during WWII.

Wolf Krotke, in Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post Christian World, wrote about Divine and Human Resistance in a way that has informed my thoughts concerning the comment above. Theology assumes some healthy disconnect from the world in which it observes. Krotke states, “If theology is understood as rational reflection – whether on the Christian faith or on the Church’s proclamation – it requires a certain distance from the world in which the church actually does its believing and proclaiming.” The church must be separate from political parties to correctly represent the gospel to the world.

I am trying to come to grips with my negative perception of the so-called resistance action since Trump was elected president. I think Krotke’s comment, “Were theology to engage in political struggle or to regard that struggle as something spiritual, its commitment to free, rational discourse would seemingly come to an end,” give some concreteness to my apathetic musings. The theology of resistance does not see the value of the other, thus leading to a position of “refusing to listen to those who take a different position or who do not exercise political resistance.” Free rational discussion is negated due to the fact that those who practice resistance theology see the other as immoral or demonic. In a multicultural polity, “society respects the freedom and worth of every human being” while “working out its conflicts – and conducts social discourse, political debate, and democratic processes of decision making within the framework of the law.”

Theological resistance against Trump today equates him at some level with the National Socialism of Germany during WWII. This modern resistance tries to paint itself as freedom fighters, similar to those who stood against Hitler. However, our democratic structures are still in place, and functioning the way they were designed. We are nowhere near the chaos of the Reich. Therefore, the resistance of today is invalid. In the context of the Nazis “resistance truly meant the end of negotiation, discussion, and compromise. Indeed, by destroying democratic structures, the Nazi leadership had made negotiation, discussion, and compromise impossible.” There was nothing left but to resist. The church did that in Nazi Germany. The Church needed to be separate from the political world, to be able to take the high ground. As Barth stated in a speech, “we protest . . . not as members of the people against the most recent history of the people, not as citizens against the new state, not as subjects against the authorities. Rather we lift up a protest against the ravaging of the church.”

The last few months I have concluded that the narrative in Genesis 11 dealing with the Tower of Babel is critical for us in this modern age. There is the man created systems that humankind hope will eliminate a need for God. This is what God destroyed, dispersing humankind throughout the earth. And there is the kingdom of God. The north African theologian, Augustine, described these as the City of God and the City of Man.

James Montgomery Boice, in his book Two Cities Two Loves, does an excellent job describing how the Church is to participate in these two cities. I think this is where so many are making a mistake. The next few comments will be heavily influenced by Boice. The Church on the right, those that think Trump is the savior, makes the mistake of taking a Christ over culture position. The liberal church tends to focus on Christ the servant of culture as its position.

In the OT book of Daniel, chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream. It was a terrifying dream. He demanded that his wisemen tell him what the dream was and what it meant. Obviously, these men could not accomplish the task, and the kings was going to execute them. Daniel heard this and asked the king to wait, because God would tell him what was needed. God used Daniel to tell Nebuchadnezzar how the dream was a description of the world’s history. It described a statue that represented the world’s great kingdoms, that would be eventually destroyed by a rock not made with human hands. This will indeed occur one day, but only God knows the time and day. However, that does not stop us from trying to help!

Christ over culture represents a claim that because Jesus is “king of kings and lord of all lords, then the church or at least its highest representatives of the church should be sovereign over the world’s rulers and cultures too.” Christians will often support political leaders who they see will “restore this nation to be a Christian nation.” We need to remember that as good or bad our nation is, it is still a part of the statue. Eventually the statue will fall.

Christ the servant of culture believes that the world doesn’t need to change, “The church and Christian people must be secularized.” We really see this today via the theology of resistance, and the partnership of the church with the political movement of the left. The church on the left “exchanges the ancient wisdom of the church, embodied in the Scriptures, for the world’s wisdom.” This wisdom is demonstrated by the 51% vote, and subsequent power politics, the theology of resistance. The irrelevance of the historic teaching of the church in this environment displays the secularization of the Church.

We who are ambassadors of Christ to the world around us, we need to reject these two perspectives. It is not God or Trump. It is always God. We should never confuse the kingdom of man as the kingdom of God. There is a clear distinction between the two. We need to stand firmly in one, to represent Christ to the other. We cannot completely disassociate from the kingdom of man, nor should we, but we need to stand firm as accurate representations of the One who loves humanity. Boice states, “The bottom line of what I have been arguing in this chapter is that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms,” and there are certain responsibilities for us in both. “Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom first, which means that they will enter the secular world as Christians and work for its good as Christians both should and can, but they should not enter the Christian world as unbelievers, attempting to modify the Church to accommodate the world’s concerns.”

It is not God or Trump. It is being an accurate representation of Christ to the world we have influence in. It is being very clear on who we are as we influence the world for Christ. We participate, persuade, but most of all we pray. Francis Schaeffer once said, “Christians must realize that there is a difference between being co-belligerent and being an ally. At times we will seem to be saying the exactly the same things as those without a Christian base are saying. . . We must say what the Bible says when it causes us to seem to be saying what others are saying. . . But we must never forget that this is only a passing co-belligerency and not an alliance. My fear is there are those of us both on the left and right that they have become an ally, and not a co-belligerent.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

Mark Galli, Pearls Before Swine, Daniel, And Standing For Jesus

I am so excited. I finally have my computer back. My brand new MacBook Pro developed a cracked screen, which meant problems for me writing my blog. I took the computer to the Apple store and a week later I got it back with a new screen. I am pretty happy that I can start writing again.

A couple of days ago one of my favorite writers produced a controversial editorial on why President Trump should be removed from office. Today’s blog is not about whether I support his comments, or whether I support the 200 pastors and church leaders who, as a result, signed a letter condemning Galli’s editorial, it is about how we as ambassadors for Christ in this world should behave.

You see, the Christ-followers on my left are saying that finally someone from the evangelical community is condemning Trump. They feel vindicated that someone like Galli is coming out against Trump. These Christ-followers are my friends, but they have a distrust of people who call themselves evangelicals. The Jesus People on my right are now, as a result of Galli’s article, saying that Christianity Today is a leftist magazine, of the most horrible bent. One group, for the first time, is recognizing some value in the magazine, and the other group is denigrating the magazine because of one article. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Just like the captain’s speech in Cool Hand Luke (1967) we have a horrible problem occurring in the church. This problem is very similar to what was occurring in the early Corinthian church. Paul warns this church “when one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1). Jesus warns His followers about casting one’s pearls before swine. Today’s modern church has the ability via social media to spread the gospel, but it can also have huge negative effects too. When we live our lives in this realm, reacting to every puff of smoke on Twitter and Facebook, we are damaging the gospel message. This is what I see coming from both the Christian left and right as they attack each other.

Having read Galli’s argument, and the subsequent emotional responses in the Twitter sphere, I got to thinking about how we should operate in this world? Jesus prayed for us in John 17:14-15, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” We are here, and as ambassadors to a fallen world, we have a job, but what does that job look like? I have thought about this quite a bit lately, but it wasn’t until I started my study of the book of Daniel, that I came to the conclusion that he is a great example of how we are to stand during these evil days.

The Old Testament book of Daniel gives us a clear example of how to live in a secular and brutal age. In Daniel 1 we read “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim King of Judah.” This was around 606 BC. As usual, Judah got into some kind of trouble, and its king was carried off by a brutal Monarch, Nebuchadnezzar. Along with the king, and his family, many Israelites were carried away into captivity. The protagonist of this historical book is Daniel. He was of nobility, without blemish, and skillful in wisdom. He and three other gentlemen went to live with Nebuchadnezzar to be taught the ways of the Chaldeans.

Daniel, a child of God, is now living in a pagan country, exposed to the culture of the country, maybe a little afraid, but standing strong in who he was as a person. This is the exemplar we need to follow today. Those of us who are followers of Jesus are in a foreign culture, are being fed the food of the Chaldeans, when we should be eating vegetables and water, the food of faith, to be faithful representations to the evil we encounter.

Daniel was a counselor for four different kings. There was Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus. We know that Galli has criticized the character of Trump, but let’s compare Trump to these four gentlemen. According to the Jewish historian Josephus Nebuchadnezzar broke his agreement with Israel. He had promised not to destroy the city but did and carried away a bunch of people. Nebuchadnezzar was “merciless toward the conquered people.”  Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar would go crazy until he repented. Sound familiar?

Belshazzar was the monarch of Babylon for two years. During that two years, according to the Talmud, Belshazzar brutally “oppressed his Jewish subjects.” The most famous event including Belshazzar was a dinner party. Belshazzar was dining with his friends when a hand appeared in the air. The hand wrote “Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. Daniel interpreted these words for Belshazzar telling him that his kingdom had been judged and found wanting. I can almost see Belshazzar Tweeting how he saw the hand writing on the wall, while criticizing those who disagree with him.

The next person was Cyrus. Darius is in there someplace, but not much is known about him. Cyrus was called the great, and from all appearances he was benevolent. He was the one that ended the Babylonian captivity. I am positive that each of these four gentlemen can be found in our government personnel. So what we are facing today, other than maybe the brutality, is the same that Daniel endured.

As we look at these four gentlemen, we can see different leadership styles that Daniel had to interact with. He stood his ground for God and was not afraid to be the voice of reason during crazy times. What was it about Daniel that can help us be better at representing Jesus to the culture around us?

I think the first thing we see about Daniel is his faithfulness towards God. He was truly a disciple. When he was carried away, he chose not to change his habits. He would not eat the king’s food, or drink his wine, but would follow the ways of God. That was the starting point. Then he became skillful in the literature and language of the Chaldeans. He understood the culture around him, which would help him later in the story. If we are going to be a statesperson for our king, then we need to first be faithful to Him, people of prayer, and second understand the culture we are present in, but not be taken in by it. I think the way we have given in to the politics of today we are no longer in the world but not of it, but in the world, and of it.

There are modern examples of Daniels that we can observe. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who was faithful to His God. He stood against racial hatred by loving. He didn’t let the politics of the day consume him, but eventually it would kill him. Another example is Mother Theresa. She was faithful to her God, helping the poor and marginalized, but standing tall against the evil of abortion. And lastly, Margaret Thatcher, a lay Methodist preacher, who saw the free-market as the means of improving the life of people. These were individuals willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people who we would consider evil, to do what needed to be done. So instead of accepting the culture around us, stand above it.

Daniel was a man who was not in a place where he wanted to be, but he was in the place where God wanted him to be. We are just like that. Instead of focusing on the evil of this time, be willing to throw our windows open and pray to God for all to see. Don’t worry about what people think, but be a disciple of Jesus, learning from him, and creating understanding of the culture around us, so we can provide a better witness of our coming king.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

Brexit, The Empirical Rule, Newton’s Third Law And The Upcoming Election

Writing has its ebbs and flows. Some weeks you can’t stop writing and with others it is a struggle. I have been experiencing one of those dry moments. Of course, I have just finished teaching two classes, and with that comes a lot of final grading. I’ve been a little preoccupied. However, that has not stopped me from reading. The partisan impeachment of Trump is inching forward, and some people on my social media feed are drawn to this event like sharks to a bloody corpse in the ocean (a little graphic). Some people are attacking a teenager because of her views on climate. And others blame white racism for everything.

Paul Krugman made a comment on Twitter that demonstrates how an intelligent person can be so consumed by Trump Derangement Syndrome that they lose all common sense. It appears that white racism was the cause of Boris Johnson’s conservative win in the United Kingdom. Once again, we see the left’s inability to accept that normal people don’t want extreme leftist policies controlling their governments.

I don’t think the Brits particularly like Boris Johnson as much as they dislike the leftist policies of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. According to the Wall Street Journal, the reason Boris Johnson now has a mandate to complete Brexit is due to “Mr. Corbyn and his left-wing acolytes.” Corbyn’s promises are similar to Bernie and Elizabeth here in the states. Free stuff for everyone. Corbyn “promised to nationalize utilities, railways and even broadband service, to tax private schools, to impose new taxes on homeowners, and to create a new higher-education entitlement.” Add to all of these promises is his left-wing “hostility to Zionism, sympathy for anti-Israel terrorist groups, and anti-Semitism among labour members,” and you can see why Johnson’s party won.

I happen to think this is a warning for those 2020 Democrats who are proposing increased taxes, with more spending and similar identity politics demonizing those of us in the middle. This seems to be a recipe for failure. Most of us are in the middle. We don’t want our politics to be too far to the left or right. When things get a bit too far one way or another Newton’s Third Law of Motion takes effect, we push back, driving politics back to the middle. The central tendency I am talking about can be demonstrated by using the Empirical Rule found in statistics.

During my career at Boeing I was involved with Statistical Process Control (SPC). We were implementing this to help improve the quality of the product we were machining at the Portland plant. In manufacturing variation is the enemy. When you produce something, you want to make sure the multiplication of your product is the same every time, at least within some reasonable variation allowed by engineering.

Within the discipline of statistics there is the Empirical Rule. “The empirical rule is a statistical rule which states that for a normal distribution, almost all data falls within three standard deviations of the mean. Broken down, the empirical rule shows that 68% falls within the first standard deviation, 95% within the first two standard deviations, and 100% within the first three standard deviations.” We used this rule to attempt to control our processes and ensure we produced high quality product the first time.

However, I think we can apply this to our political system. Most people have centrist views about politics. I would also think that about 68% of the people in the United States would consider themselves as center left or center right politically, at least within one standard deviation of the middle. Then we would see 27% that would be a bit farther left or right, and finally about 5% that would be considered extreme. In the United Kingdom we just saw a reaction of those representing the one six-sigmers (centrists) to the outliers, those that I consider three-sigmers. In 2020, I think you will see something similar here in the United States.

Newton’s Third Law of motion states, “If an object A exerts a force on object B, then object B must exert a force of equal magnitude and opposite direction on object A.” Like statistics, I think we can apply Newton’s Third Law to our political interactions. In our culture we have social, academic, and media elites telling people in the United States what to think. However, it is a force that is pushing against historical values of our culture. Let’s say that force A represents the elites, this results in force B that pushes back with equal intensity. Let’s say that force is the result of the 2016 election. Force B turns into a primary force, resulting in the elites pushing back with equal intensity, the impeachment. The only problem is, force A and force B are both part of the extreme 5% three-sigmers.

The 95% of us that hang out closer to the middle don’t like the back and forth between those that are outside of our comfort zone. I think we are tired of the tension, which is why we don’t care about the Democrat’s attempt to impeach Trump. We want everything to move back to the mean, and we will vote accordingly. It is time for our politicians to stop pushing extreme ideas and figure out how to find consensus in the areas of climate control, immigration, border control, gun control, and out of control spending. The time is now.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

David Brooks And Luigi Zingales: Capitalist Philosophers

I found a recent New York Times editorial by David Brooks interesting. The title was “I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked.” Although, I am not necessarily a fan of the New York Times, I am a fan of David Brooks. I like his style and find myself agreeing with him more than disagreeing. He started his opinion piece with “I was a socialist in college.” He then described why he considered himself a socialist while in college. He “read magazines like The Nation and old issues of The New Masses,” and described his dream of “being the next Clifford Odets, a lefty playwright who was always trying to raise proletarian class consciousness.” Brooks then attempted to give us a definition of socialism as “what touches all should be decided by all.” He summarizes this in an economic sense as business enterprises being owned by all of us in common. “Decisions should be based on what benefits all, not the maximization of profit.” Discussing the Democratic Socialism of Sanders, et al, Brooks raises some valid points, “why do we have to live with such poverty and inequality? Why can’t we put people over profits? What is the best life in the most just society?”

Brooks, like so many before him, came to his senses. As a young man he thought that “socialism” was “the most compelling secular religion of all time.” Because it “gives an egalitarian ideal to sacrifice and live for.” I remember having those same feelings when I was college age, but then just like the apostle Paul, I matured and put away childish things. Brooks did too. “My socialist sympathies didn’t survive long once I became a journalist. I quickly noticed that the government officials I was covering were not capable of planning the society they hoped to create.”

As I read what Brooks was saying I recalled a book I read several years ago, “A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity,” by Luigi Zingales. In his book he tells a very similar story as Brooks and gave many of the same solutions that Brooks does to the problem associated with the negative view of our capitalist system.

In the introduction Zingales describes his awaking as being similar to, “Most of the Italian economists I know who immigrated to this country – and there are many – came to the United States as extreme leftists, in some cases as active communists.” Even though these Italian budding economists had a hatred of the American system, “the best schools were here.” Zingales describes the resulting metamorphosis, “And I’ve noticed that once they moved to the United States, they tended over time to become free-marketeers.” I find this very encouraging, and why I think capitalism is the best system for a fair and equitable society.

The evolution of Brooks emerged when he “came to realize that capitalism is really good at doing the one thing socialism is really bad at: creating a learning process to help people figure things out.” This innovation has a way for us to create a better life for ourselves. This is contrasted to how “Socialist planned economies – the common ownership of the means of production – interfere with price and other market signals in a million ways” resulting in a declining living standard. As Brooks states, “planned economies have produced an enormous amount of poverty and scarcity. What is worse is what happens when political elites learn what you can do with that scarcity. They turn scarcity into corruption.” An ultimately oppression, like we see in Venezuela.

Capitalism brings with it an improving standard of living, as Brooks states “Human living standards were pretty much flat for all human history until capitalism kicked in.” He proposes that economic freedom leads to better living standards. Nations in the top quartile for economic freedom have an average “GDP per capita of $36,770.” While those in the bottom quartile $6,140. Life expectancy in free economies is 79.4 and those in a planned economy 65.2 years. It also produces better results for the environment. “America’s per capita carbon emissions hit a 67-year low in 2017.” All of this is encouraging.

Zingales identifies several factors that were critical in the development of our American capitalist system. In the chapter dealing with American exceptionalism, Zingales describes how, “a fortunate combination of historical, geographical, cultural, and institutional factors made American capitalism different from the versions of capitalism prevailing elsewhere in the world.” To Zingales this was what made the U.S. free market successful.

To accomplish this a political system that could provide the appropriate boundaries that would allow the system to create capital accumulation but also rules to ensure a level and fair playing field would be required. The fact that democracy predated industrialization allowed for boundaries and rules. This meant the economic players could flourish. Another fortuitous event was that the government portion of GDP was miniscule. This meant that small private businesses would be the mechanism of financial prosperity and not whether you were old money or had a good relationship with a politician.

However, one of the most important elements leading to the success of our financial system was the protestant ethic for hard work. Deeply engrained in our culture was the ability and desire to work hard and experience the fruit of our labor. In some countries today you can ask young people if they are going to start a business to become successful, and they will express concern about how if they start something, and it is successful, some powerful elite will take it away from them. This is so different from what we experience in the U.S.

Both Brooks and Zingales describe a fertile and vibrant arena that has led to the economic prosperity of a capitalist system in United States. However, both argue that our system can be better. Brooks describes a capitalism that is not perfect that has led to systems of inequality. Brooks describes this, “capitalism, like all human systems, is unbalanced one way or another. Over the last generation, capitalism has produced the greatest reduction of global income inequality in history. The downside is that low-skill workers in the U.S. are now competing with workers in Vietnam, India, and Malaysia. The reduction of inequality among nations has led to the increase of inequality within rich nations, like the United States.”

Zingales focuses on the merging of our political and economic systems that lead to problematic expressions of crony capitalism. Zingales poignantly expresses this, “In a socialist economy, the political system controls business; in a crony capitalist system. . , business controls the political process. The difference is slim: either way, competition is absent, and freedom shrinks.” So, what needs to be done to ensure our capitalism thrives, and everyone participates in its fruits?

I will say I agree with both gentlemen as they describe actions needed to create a “more and better capitalism.” Brooks describes, “a massive infusion of money and reform in our educational systems.” See my earlier blog on my thoughts about education. Brooks also describes worker co-ops, which will help build worker skills, wage subsidies, so people can have hope of a better economic life. Low income people often find help, but then lose that help too soon when they make a higher wage.

Zingales describes a necessary inequality that “without some inequality, there are no incentives: people go to college and study hard not just because they love learning but also because they expect to earn more money afterward.” And describes what happens when inequality becomes too great, people lose incentive too. Zingales, also, warns how the negative impact of growing income inequality can create a negative perspective of capitalism, “Increasing income inequality is undermining the popular consensus in favor of a free-market system.”

As I have said several times, I am a Democratic-Capitalist. I believe in democracy and I believe the best economic system working in tandem with our politics is capitalism. I agree with Brooks, we can figure how to do it just a little better than we are right now. We just need the social will to accomplish it.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

The Interagency, Cabal, Swamp: Required Or Expensive Waste?

In every organization bureaucracy is both critical and terminal. Years ago, I used a textbook for my Organizational Theory class that dealt with both mechanical and behavioral elements of developing an organization. The mechanical aspects included describing different types of organization structure like functional, geographical, and divisional. Behaviorally, the textbook dealt with the human comportment necessary for the successful exercise of a business model. It was in this textbook I was introduced to a theory associated with the crisis points of a business as it matures from its entrepreneurial to declining stage.

Typically, a business starts as an entrepreneurship. This is an exciting time. The founders are offering a new product or service that people find useful. The founder, and the people working with the founder, have a wide range of responsibility as they do whatever needs to be done to get the business off the ground. Eventually, the business grows to a point where it needs a bit more organization. A management structure is created to meet the need for effective and efficient processes. This is a critical point, and it necessary for the sustainability of the business.

After a while there is another crisis. Often, the management mechanism described above stifles the creative elements once experienced during the entrepreneurial stage. This is called bureaucracy. Policies and procedures are created so employees have standardized work, and the necessary rules are instituted to ensure all employees are treated fairly. I am greatly simplifying the process, but I think you get my point. The crisis at this stage of organizational development is even more dangerous. It not handled properly the vitality of the organization will suffer. If leaders are not careful, they rely too much on the bureaucracy which can stifle needed innovation and creativity choking out employee engagement. This bureaucracy can lead to a system having the capability of ravenous consumption of resources which can suck the energy out of an organization. This is what I call a swamp.

I mention this today because I see this occurring in our educational system and government. Recently, an education-reform activist, Sarah Carpenter, “expressed skepticism” about Elizabeth Warren’s education plan. At a November rally, Elizabeth Warren described “how she got an increase in Child Development Block grants of 85%.” She told the people in Massachusetts involved with child development that they were going to get an 85% raise “at all our little child-development centers.” The sounds wonderful. More money to develop children. The only problem is none of the 85% made it to the children. Michael Q. McShane and Jason Bedrick described what happened in their editorial in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. “You know how much of a raise they got? Zero! Somehow it all went to the state government and never made it down.”

It was the bureaucracy (swamp), the administrative system, that continued to grow, that ate up all the financial resources. Just recently here in good ole Washington State we saw the very same thing. Our legislature approved millions of dollars to pay teachers better throughout the state. The problem was, much of that money was eaten up by the administrative bureaucracy. This infuriated the teachers, resulting in teacher strikes across the state, and this does not just happen here.

Kenneshaw State University has been recording school grow for years. They have found “that from 1950 to 2015, the number of students in American public schools doubled and the number of teachers grew by 243%.” These are promising numbers, until we review the growth of the number of school administrators. “The number of administrator and all other staff rose more than 700%” during the same time period.  I think this gives us an idea of what is eating up so much of our resources.

This growth of the educational administration, in my opinion, is similar to what William Daft described in his Organizational Theory textbook. Our educational system has long since moved into the managerial stage of organizational development. This bureaucracy is now eating up financial resources that should go to the children. Parents have been trying to fight this swamp, especially in our inner cities by creating Charter Schools. These schools don’t have the administrative layers that get in the way of educating our young people. From what I have read this can eliminate waste and help provide resources needed to the children they serve.

Let’s look at some numbers. “From 1992 to 2014, per student spending at America’s district schools increased 27%.” I like that, and it seems reasonable. “Over the same period, average teacher salaries fell 2%.” Hmm, that doesn’t sound good. I can understand why teachers get a little cranky. The governor of Arizona planned to give teachers in Arizona a 20% raise “by 2020 providing funding to districts.” Sounds exciting, but what actually happened? “The Tucson Unified School District had other ideas. Local officials opted to give teachers smaller raises and finance salary increases for non-teaching staff, too.”  It is the swamp monster demanding to be fed that seems to be having a negative impact on our educational system. I think McShane and Bedrick have done a good job demonstrating how the swamp, bureaucracy, can eat up resources taking them away from where they are needed, all the while screaming “feed me Seymour, feed me.”

All of us understand this when it comes to government, especially at the federal level. In fact, during these impeachment proceedings we are learning quite a bit about the “interagency.” Somebody should make a film titled, “The Interagency.” Matt Damon could star as the secret agent who exposes it. The Blacklist, a television show starring James Spader as Raymond Reddington, explored a similar theme with the interagency evil called the Cabal. Carl Schramm uses cabal to describe the interagency, an off-the-books informal government organization used to make important government decisions. Schramm states, “The impeachment hearings will have served a useful purpose if all they do is demonstrate that a cabal of unelected officials are fashioning profound aspects of U.S. foreign policy on their own motion.”

Whether we call it the swamp, bureaucracy, Cabal, or interagency the fact is every organization develops activities that seem to be important but tend to be non-value added. In the Japanese philosophy of Lean Manufacturing, the protagonist is fighting against waste. The seven wastes, muda, are overproduction, queues, transportation, inventory, motion, over processing, and defective product, are all activities that fail to produce value for the customer. The customer will not pay for any of these activities. The job of the hero is to eliminate activities that are wasteful.

Two years ago, when I was in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan I attended an accelerated improvement workshop at the Kazakh, American Free University. It was led by a lean group out of the Volga River area in Russia, with the organizing company being an automobile manufacturer in Ust-Kamenogorsk. People participating were learning how to eliminate waste from the activities associated with their work environment. I was impressed.

I know some bureaucracy is necessary, but I also know too much can be detrimental to success. I hope our educational and government systems hire a lean consultant soon. Maybe our kids can get the education they need, and our government will be run by elected officials rather than the Cabal.

And that is my thought for the day!