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Postponing Reality

By Thomas Sowell

Some of us were raised to believe that reality is inescapable. But that just shows how far behind the times we are. Today, reality is optional. At the very least, it can be postponed.

Kids in school are not learning? Not a problem. Just promote them on to the next grade anyway. Call it "compassion," so as not to hurt their "self-esteem."

Can't meet college admissions standards after they graduate from high school? Denounce those standards as just arbitrary barriers to favor the privileged, and demand that exceptions be made.

Can't do math or science after they are in college? Denounce those courses for their rigidity and insensitivity, and create softer courses that the students can pass to get their degrees.

Once they are out in the real world, people with diplomas and degrees-- but with no real education-- can hit a wall. But by then the day of reckoning has been postponed for 15 or more years. Of course, the reckoning itself can last the rest of their lives.

The current bailout extravaganza is applying the postponement of reality democratically-- to the rich as well as the poor, to the irresponsible as well as to the responsible, to the inefficient as well as to the efficient. It is a triumph of the non-judgmental philosophy that we have heard so much about in high-toned circles.

We are told that the collapse of the Big Three automakers in Detroit would have repercussions across the country, causing mass layoffs among firms that supply the automobile makers with parts, and shutting down automobile dealerships from coast to coast.

A renowned economist of the past, J.A. Schumpeter, used to refer to progress under capitalism as "creative destruction"-- the replacement of businesses that have outlived their usefulness with businesses that carry technological and organizational creativity forward, raising standards of living in the process.

Indeed, this is very much like what happened a hundred years ago, when that new technological wonder, the automobile, wreaked havoc on all the forms of transportation built up around horses.

For thousands of years, horses had been the way to go, whether in buggies or royal coaches, whether pulling trolleys in the cities or plows on the farms. People had bet their futures on something with a track record of reliable success going back many centuries.

Were all these people to be left high and dry? What about all the other people who supplied the things used with horses-- oats, saddles, horse shoes and buggies? Wouldn't they all go falling like dominoes when horses were replaced by cars?

Unfortunately for all the good people who had in good faith gone into all the various lines of work revolving around horses, there was no compassionate government to step in with a bailout or a stimulus package.

They had to face reality, right then and right there, without even a postponement.

Who would have thought that those who displaced them would find themselves in a similar situation a hundred years later?

Actually the automobile industry is not nearly in as bad a situation now as the horse-based industries were then. There is no replacement for the automobile anywhere on the horizon. Nor has the public decided to do without cars indefinitely.

While Detroit's Big Three are laying off thousands of workers, Toyota is hiring thousands of workers right here in America, where a substantial share of all our Toyotas are manufactured.

Will this save Detroit or Michigan? No.

Detroit and Michigan have followed classic liberal policies of treating businesses as prey, rather than as assets. They have helped kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. So have the unions. So have managements that have gone along to get along.

Toyota, Honda and other foreign automakers are not heading for Detroit, even though there are lots of experienced automobile workers there. They are avoiding the rust belts and the policies that have made those places rust belts.

A bailout of Detroit's Big Three would be only the latest in the postponements of reality. As for automobile dealers, they can probably sell Toyotas just as easily as they sold Chevvies. And Toyotas will require just as many tires per car, as well as other parts from automobile parts suppliers.

Copyright 2008, Creators Syndicate Inc.


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