LOS ANGELES: My college business professor frequently referred to companies who made “widgets.” He explained that a widget was not an actual thing. It was a fictional name meant to represent any product. Widgets in essence are “stuff.”
This directly relates to what we Americans are suffering through now during the Coronavirus pandemic. Somewhere in the new economy that began in 1995, Americans stopped making things.
Widgets gave way to the service economy. Everything became “e-business solutions.”
Even the bedrock of America, IBM, no longer makes things.
The acronym IBM actually stands for International Business Machines. Most people today associate IBM with computers. They do not know that the company began by making sewing machines.
For many years, IBM was the heart of America. It made stuff. Now IBM does not make anything. It does not make a single computer. Or widget. IBM is a technology consulting firm.
Is this a good thing? Times change, progress, and new world were more than just fancy buzzwords. Or were they?
Think of the television shows you watch. There are a ton of dramas centered around people who work in law and medicine. Name a show centered around logistics professionals.
Remember when mom wanted her daughter to marry a doctor?
How many moms prayed that their daughter would marry someone in supply chain management? How many people even know what supply chain management even is?
Somewhere along the line, making stuff was seen as an inferior life choice. White-collar professionals became the upper class. Blue-collar workers were the working class.
Now America needs vital medical supplies to combat COVID-19. Some of these supplies can only be obtained from China. They make the stuff. America does not.
How can this be acceptable?
More importantly, has the new economy really helped us overall?
Many people have benefitted. I know I have. Online businesses have been created from scratch online without needing a brick and mortar building.
Yet others have been badly harmed. Look at Detroit. It was not always a suffering city. It was once a proud hub of America. The Big Three automakers made stuff. Henry Ford’s assembly line was as American as it got. The idea that General Motors could go bankrupt was unimaginable.
We need to start making stuff again.
We need to show respect and esteem for the people who make stuff. The fancy car a person drives requires a ton of workers who have to make sure that every screw, nut, and bolt is locked into its appropriate place.
We need to stop convincing young people that their path to success must go through college, especially if it requires student loans.
Racking up thousands of dollars in debt is not the path to the American dream.
We should promote trade schools because we need plumbers, electricians, and welders. We need people who know how to DO things. People who know how to make things, build things, and when they break, fix things.
America was a fantastic country when we built stuff.
Presidents of both political parties were committed to making stuff. Eisenhower led the effort to build the highway system. We literally built this country and created the highways we now take for granted. Kennedy obsessed over getting to the Moon because he knew that lessons learned from getting there could be applied to creating a better life here.
When we built stuff, the whole world and beyond was within reach.
The idea that something was beyond our ability was unthinkable. We did stuff.
We can again. It will require a ton of sacrifices. We must be willing to pay more for goods that are of a higher quality because the workers will be paid better.
We also must get back to when the “Made in the USA” label meant the highest quality in the world.
After 9/11, we thanked police officers and firefighters. Now we are thanking medical personnel, first responders and truckers. And all deservedly so.
We need to start thanking people who make stuff. We must encourage young Americans to make stuff. Sometimes being appreciated is a more valuable currency than the paycheck itself.
To makers of widgets everywhere, thank you. We need more of you. What you do is patriotic. You are American exceptionalism. –
Lead Image: Historical Image courtesy of IBM for the Free Dictionary – https://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/International+Business+Machines+Corporation