Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Make something

Something in the human soul makes us creative. We make things, for ourselves and for others. Created things are the basic unit in the massive, unwieldy structure that has been dubbed The Economy.

I remember a comforting detail about the belovedly strange television program The X-Files: At the close of the program, a very young voice proclaiming with pride, "I made this." Little boys and girls have an inherent understanding of the joy of creation, the satisfaction that comes from building or making something.

I remember a chill going through my soul when I heard they were closing the last Zenith plant in the US of A, and no Americans anywhere were to be building television sets anymore. It is a little more than 15 years later now, but it was about then that I started to believe the U.S. economy might reach the precarious stage where it now seems to be perched.

The key to success in the marketplace is to make something other people need or want. I'm all for the things produced by a service economy — I'm a wordsmith by trade, for God's sake — but I have always had an uneasy feeling about moving the facilities to create things far, far away. Steel factory closings, automobile factory closings, television factory closings, shoe factory closings — labels that say Made in China, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Japan — I'm not declaring patriotic platitudes here; I'm simply asking the question: What is left for my neighbors to make? Where does the steelmaker or the shoemaker get her next meal?

This is not intended to be an appeal to your fears, although these words and phrases are often cobbled together by fear mongers to make you afraid. But I am saddened and troubled by words attributed to Barack Obama from Tuesday night's audience with journalists: "... with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life."

"... the only entity left ..."? I suspect many people will not recognize in Obama's words the fulfillment of Mencken's ancient prophecy, the one I have quoted here more than once: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

It is always false that "only" the federal government can lead an alarmed populace to safety. You certainly understand this in your soul, or you wouldn't be attracted to writings like this one. If you want resources to jolt the economy back to life, look at the ends of your arms. Peer into the mirror and consider the resources between your ears.

What we call an economy is the cumulative product of billions of exchanges among folks like you and folks like me. You have created something I want or need, and I have created something you want or need, and we exchange them. It doesn't all begin with the federal government. It begins with your hands and your head.

The president or Congress do not have the power to feed you or clothe you or shelter you. Arguably they can only get in your way. Again, I am not saying this to scare you. I am saying this to empower you.

If you want to jolt the economy, learn how to make something, and make it. The rest will follow.

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Anonymous sunni said...

I'm with you, my friend.

(I'd say it isn't "arguable", but patently true that the fedgov—and all levels of gov—can only interfere with the real business of life.)

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Kirsten said...

Interesting timing of this post. This past weekend, my sweetie and I (mostly) made a solar oven. I just felt like making something. All that's left to finish it is to insulate it and attach the reflector panels. Then I'm going to give it a whirl on our next sunny day and see what kind of oven temperature I can get in the winter in Montana. Should be exciting!

2:17 PM  

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