George L. Barnett: America is failing by design


Published: Monday, January 5, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 4:45 p.m.

I'm not surprised by Tom Friedman's (well known New York Times columnist) recent comparisons between China's modern railroad stations and airports, trains and infrastructure and our crumbling one.

He was able to conduct cell phone conversations from China's clean modern trains and work on his laptop without interruption, and then had to confront broken transmissions and dirt and squalor on our domestic transportation.

It is no surprise to me that our infrastructure is crumbling. Actually, we want it that way.

Oh, you say, that cannot really be true. How could any of us choose to have crumbling bridges and roads and out-of-date trains and airports?

Well, when all you care about is today's bottom line and reducing taxes, what do you expect?

There is no free lunch. There's a reason why the states that collect the least taxes have the worst schools and infrastructures.

There was a movie in 1954 called "Executive Suite," from Cameron Hawley's book, about a furniture corporation in transition. The chief executive officer and majority stock holder had just committed suicide, and the question was who would take over after him.

On one side you had the chief financial officer, only concerned about how to make the cheapest product and the most immediate profit. He was portrayed as a personally greedy type with clammy hands.

On the other side was the clean-cut production chief (played by William Holden) married to a lovely woman (June Allyson).

In an impassioned speech, the Holden character argues that the company has always stood for quality and that in the long run the continuation of that quality will be in the best interests of the company.

It's a shame that we have forgotten that message.

All of the greedy bean counters have won. They have taken their obscene salaries and bonuses and have neglected quality in the name of quick profits. (Just think of all of those Wall Street types).

The old commercial about the Maytag repairman who has nothing to do is a farce. Light bulbs burn out almost as quickly as you can turn them on. Everyone knows why our automobile companies are failing; because they stopped making quality vehicles.

No wonder that we have also ignored our trains, airports, schools and roads. Taking care of those things would involve giving up some of those quick profits, paying taxes, doing the right thing, taking care of the poor and providing for health care, and generally looking out for the long run instead of only tomorrow.

No, that is no longer the American way.

And look where that get rich quick, short-range thinking has gotten us: to the abyss.

We are looking over the cliff, and the Chinese are poised right behind us to push us over, not with guns or bombs, but with our own lack of foresight.

I wonder if we are going to let them, or are we going to stop the greedy infighting in Congress and pull together for a change? Will our Congress and our Legislature ask us to sacrifice, or will its members continue to pander for votes by trumpeting lower taxes at the price of services and infrastructure?

We've just begun a new year. I suppose we will find out.

George L. Barnett lives in Micanopy.

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