Analog Angle Article Blog

Maybe we should have listened to Cassandra?

The current financial crisis has many causes: greed, deceit, misdeeds, Ponzi schemes, easy debt and more. Guilty parties are everywhere, including in the mirror. There's plenty of blame for all.

But there is a cause we prefer to ignore beyond just bad, unethical or illegal behavior. According to Greek mythology, the heroine Cassandra was blessed with the ability to foresee the future, but cursed to have her predictions constantly ignored. It's the same here. Those who said we needed to do more than just “shop till you drop” to remain a productive and growing economy were scorned.

Too many companies decided they didn't have to design or build anything; they could just do the up-front product definition and end-phase marketing, and leave the nasty middle business of actually adding value via engineering and manufacturing to their invisible partners elsewhere.

Funny thing is, after a few years, these partners realized they didn't need those companies to do the first and last parts of the job–they could do it themselves, and then got “you're out” message. So over a decade these company has morphed from a creative engineering, design and production operation into a marketing nameplate and then into an unneeded appendage.

It's not the outsourcing of jobs itself that's the problem, but the shift in focus from creation to consumption. Shopping and spending have become the new religion; there are so many malls you can literally walk from one to the next in many parts of the country, and more malls are being built constantly. We–the media and its audience–are obsessed with who wore which dress to the Ocars, while we ignore the true creators of long-term wealth: engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, electricians and those in related professions.

I don't know why this change occurred, but I know when it did. In the 1960s, our society's priorities shifted and its icons morphed from builders into consumers and their enablers, including–and perhaps especially–celebrities who bring little real value to the party. In years past it wouldn't have been unusual to see an engineer heralded on the cover of a mass-market publication such as Time or Newsweek, but now most mainstream magazines, TV shows and of course Internet sites are devoted to Hollywood's hot stars–however inconsequential they will be when they cool off. We may not feel the full impact of this dramatic shift, because we spend our time working with the remaining core of innovators and creators of long-term growth and wealth.

Perhaps this situation was inevitable, as the success and prosperity of a society sows the seeds of its demise. We become complacent–even lazy–and we forget that it took hard work to achieve our desired results and it will take more hard work to sustain them. We forget that consumption must be matched by production or we become a nation of shopkeepers and buyers–until it all comes crashing down.

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