Saturday, December 24, 2011

On Productivity


Ho ho ho.  Tis the day before Christmas, and all through the house my children and grandchildren and all the lizards and cucarachas and fruit rats and assorted hangers-on are muttering carols as they eye the giftwrapped boxes and swig the wassail and dart out to nibble on the crumbs of fruit cake that have hit the tiles during the revels of the midday.

The holidays in Florida.  I just returned after acquiring a new cell phone, a gift from our son.  The store manager who sold it to us, a recent immigrant from Durban, South Africa, was extraordinary for his endless patience and total competence.  Clerks these days so often seem a little at a loss as to how to make change, let alone the intricacies of the warranty. 

Which leads me into the subject of the day.  I recently watched Donald Trump bitching about the time he spends grinding his teeth on his phone while some purported technician from Mumbai or the Falkland Islands or wherever attempts to talk him through a series of confusing steps that just might get his computer back on line.  Frequently in an English incomprehensible outside the Third World.  Every subscriber his own electronic repairman. There really aren't a great many issues, political, sociological, what have you, on which Donald Trump makes a lot of sense to me.  But this was one.  I am considering writing Trump in when the Republican primaries reach Florida.

The real point here is the genuine cost, in time, money, and frustration, of the supposed efficiencies many of the Great Corporations have engineered and managed to hang on us. AT&T and AOL might save money offshoring their back-up services, but what is an hour of Donald Trump's time worth?  I know I've brought this up before, but what kind of outcomes does, say, one of my publishers expect when he turns over publicity and promotion responsibilities on my latest book to some sweet, utterly inexperienced -- and unpaid -- intern with an empty rolodex and a lot of apprehension when it comes to dialing up even those individuals on whose radio and TV shows I had appeared a few years earlier, whose contact information I had long since provided.  So the calls don't get made, the opportunities are thrown away, and the new book doesn't sell nearly as well as the earlier book, which got a push from accomplished professionals.  If only, my disgruntled publisher mutters, my latest work was up to the previous book.  But at least he cut his losses in advance by economizing on staff.

What I am obviously getting at is the extent to which our companies, by adopting policies that seem to save money at the time, are undermining a respect for professionalism throughout the economy, discouraging the development of oncoming generations well enough trained -- and well enough paid -- to inherit the work load during the decades coming up, and compromising our industrial future.  These days there is virtually no push-back from the dispirited labor unions.  Our discussion across most of the political spectrum seems to be about what the rest of us can do to help the rich get richer; every year we seem to be pouring more sand into the cement on which the structure of our future is going to depend.  By permitting the lobbiests to shape our tax laws so as to give advantages to the corporations that manufacture and provide services largely overseas, we are expediting the coming economic implosion.  The law school graduate subbing as an unpaid intern in some enormous law factory  -- and sleeping on her parent's couch, and sweating her graduate-school loans -- faces quite a slog. 

Every competent parent knows that he has to invest in his children.  The time is long overdue for our leaders to understand that we have got to invest in all our children.

Let the Holidays roll!


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