Frugal Requires Focused Funding…

7500. That’s where the Dow is. Ok, rounded up it’s 7600, and (supposedly) set for a big open. Are you holding your breath? Open doesn’t count. It’s where it closes that matters. I read recently (can’t find the link) that 7000 would be the number. I’m beginning to believe.

Best I can tell, the latest freefall centers on two things: GM and jobs. I’m torn. We can’t afford to lose more jobs. But we can’t save every poorly run company either.

I studied the recent round of expertise on GM’s impact on our economy. Bailout or bankruptcy the pundits ask. So much at stake. Their demise could lead to 3 million more lost jobs. The kicker in that figure? GM employs just 123k people. The big three (if you can call them that) employ about 240k. But… each person accounts for another 4 jobs – another million people. AND, another 1.7 million people have jobs thanks to those 1.2 million. Which lead us to a key reason why GM and the others are floundering. Big wages – 1.2 million people buy enough to keep another 1.7 million in jobs. And that leads us to the root problem –  Mfg. only accounts for about 12% of our GDP now. Services (as in people who make far less) accounts for 67%. 

That figure made frugal crystal clear to me. We, the generation who wanted our children to have more, spoiled them on mfg. wages. They, the generation who believed us and acquired more, live on service wages. Any wonder we’re in this mess?

I’m not intellectually well-versed enough to analyze the macro/micro implications of GM. Here’s what I do understand:

If you give a failing company more money to continue under the same management to do the same things that made them a failing company…  (I believe AIG’s 2nd run to the money trough proves this point.)

Yes, the government successfully bailed out Chrysler years ago. But, Lee Iacocca took over – a new leader, new team, new ideas.  And, we still had a strong manufacturing base back then – people still bought American. Today, we’re trying to fix things (personally as well as nationally) based on the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same things (when everything has changed!) and expecting different results.

The time to save manufacturing was long ago: Ten years ago when 76% of socks were US made; twenty years ago when we started losing the 3.7 million jobs now in China and India; fourteen years ago when the million jobs in apparel and footwear began vanishing.  

I have nothing against GM, Ford, and Chrysler. I wish they were better businessmen/women. I wish 3 million jobs didn’t hinge on a larger deficit for the American public. I wish someone had the foresight to address our dwindling manufacturing economy  before it, well, dwindled. But they didn’t. The reality is this: The more we move to service-sector wages, the more mfg. jobs we will lose. BECAUSE WE CAN’T AFFORD AMERICAN. That’s why jobs moved overseas to begin with – COST. A bailout won’t change that. The question shouldn’t be, “How do we save GM,” it should be, “How do we fix our service-based economy?” 16 million, maybe 19 million jobless folks are counting on that answer.

I watched the election coverage diligently. To me, the historic implications of this choice had nothing to do with age or color. It had to do with the devastating economic challenges our new leader would face.  I needed to know how that person intended to fix this disaster. What I learned? Obama is a brilliant politician. It wasn’t until his acceptance speech that he used the two words that summarize, truthfully, the only things that can salvage our financial future, the two words that if bantered about during campaign stops quite probably would have derailed him. Sacrifice and Service. We are now a service-based economy. That requires sacrifice.  

A chicken in every pot is still possible given good couponing and attention to the weekly ads. A house, new car, DVD and plasma screen TV are not. Those of us living frugal lifestyles understand this. I wish our government did. Manufacturing doesn’t drive our economy. Service does. Period. We have to live on service wages. The government has to collect taxes and budget their spending based on service wages. 12% of the GDP won’t change that.

So, my question is this – do we save 3 million jobs in the short-term, or find ways to employ the 16 million already out of work? Do we save three businesses, or spread that money over the multitude of small businesses failing daily because even after round one of the bailout program there’s no financing available?   Do we start now living the new American dream – sacrifice and service? Or, do we just continue the insanity?

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