Michael and Me

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
when we see old things in new ways

You all know Michael Moore. He's the guy who came to fame in '89 with an early version of guerrilla journalism. As a complete unknown, he made an amazingly successful movie about the personal odyssey he undertook to track down Roger Smith, the big boss at General Motors. Using nothing but a klutz proof camera and more than enough chutzpah by half, he documented his stalking of Smith up hills, down dales and along the inner city streets of vacant, graffiti covered storefronts huddled in the shadow of abandoned, graffiti covered factories. His film, Roger & Me, had all the guilty appeal and voyeuristic fascination of a ten-car pileup which, when combined with the David versus Goliath theme, is probably what made it such a box office bonanza.

Now don't get me wrong. Michael Moore is bright and talented, and deserves his accolades. I don't know about the propriety of bashing Bush at the Academy Awards, but I figure that's mostly a matter of how you feel about Bush. Nobody would've booed Moore if he'd done a suck-up to Mother Theresa. But I did see his most recent film on the Indy channel, and I have to say that it left me wondering. Is he really so naive as to be a true believer, or is he simply trying to capitalize on the same old winning formula?

This time the title was The Big One, and it was Phil Knight who played the part of Roger Smith. Michael Moore played Michael Moore. I would say that the CEO of the Nike Corporation was ambushed but that wasn't the case. He was willing enough to be interviewed (twice yet!), but why he was so willing ... I have no idea. Along with being challenged to a foot race around the block, Knight was also challenged to build a factory in some once booming but now decaying city in Middle America.

Thus the subject of outsourcing reared its ugly head as Michael scratched his head. Why in the world would a corporation want to export jobs when there's a plethora of ready, willing and able hands right here at home? One scene even showed a selected sampling of the sea to shining sea melting pot lined up and geared to go. Just give us the opportunity and we'll show you what we can do … the huddled masses cried out. But the CEO had presumably seen how we'll show you what we can do translates, and he was having none of it. I don't want to spoil the ending for you but, alas, the shining new factory was not built. Not in Middle America anyway.

So what is it that separates the CEO's from the rest of us? Are they stupid, or ornery, or do they just maybe know something the rest of us don't know … or at least don't want to admit we know? Well, let's think about it. Labor is cheaper in other places. In some places, a whole lot cheaper. A computer person here in the US of A will typically make $60,000 to $80,000 doing the same job a person in India will be happy - delighted - to do for $6,000 to $8,000. That's 90% off the top in case you graduated from a public high school and can't do the math. Or go to a place like Ireland where you'll also find an educated, English speaking (sort of) workforce, that rarely takes sick days, and often comes in early and stays late.

And as long as we're thinking about it, let's think about the myriad of rules and regulations with which corporations in America must contend. On second thought, don't think about it. It will make you crazy, and that's probably against one or more of those self-same rules and regulations. I'll give you a quick example though. A fellow I know was all set to open a girly bar when one of the seemingly endless line of bureaucratic, pre-opening inspector types started the following exchange:

Q: How will your topless, performers get up to the stage?

A: There's a set of four steps right over there.

Q: Ah yes - but what if you have an erotic dancer in a wheel chair?

One $10,000 hydraulic lift later, my friend was allowed to open. What he'll do if that hypothetical handicapped temptress ever shows up demanding to do wheelies on stage, I've no idea.

And what about law suits? Can you think of a more litigious nation on the face of the planet? . In the old days, Clyde (of Bonnie & Clyde) once sent a letter to Henry Ford extolling the virtues of his vehicles when outrunning the law. Today such a note would be a court case waiting to happen. And it may not be long before gun manufacturers are held liable for the crimes miscreants commit using their products. You don't believe it? Neither do I, but look what happened to the cigarette companies, and what's just around the corner for the high fat, fast food industry. One would be hard pressed to come up with some third world banana republic offering less long-term stability in the market place.

And don't even start with unions, an excellent example of we'll show you what we can do. They provide nothing like continuing training to make workers more productive, but they do negotiate pension packages that makes hiring a laborer a lot like going into labor - you suddenly have a dependent for life. Here in SoCal, those unions that Moore holds in such high regard took grocery store clerks out on a strike that lasted for almost half a year. The brouhaha cost billions, and finally ended about where it began - except that now employers are paying new employees less money to do the same jobs as old employees. Hello … can you guess where this is going? I can just see some newly hired triple minority (as in a female, handicapped, American Indian) getting the first squint at her paycheck.

And look at high taxes. It costs money to support all those people who don't work unless, of course, you count making babies as work. And a worn out infrastructure doesn't help. One of the reasons that Europe and Japan went so far so fast after the war is because, bombed to rubble, they were able to rebuild from scratch. Rusting steel plants in places like Pittsburgh and Bethlehem that were already 50 years old, didn't stand a chance of competing. I won't even ask when you last checked out public transportation. And can we really afford all those environmental protection initiatives? Even if we save a few wilderness areas, will they be safe to visit after dark? I recall a fellow who traveled across the plains of Africa telling me he'd never have the courage to try it in downtown Detroit.

Look At It This Way

When you hear all the standard hoopla in praise of the American worker, keep in mind that the demographics have changed drastically since Rosy the Riveter. When was the last time you peeked into a city bus? Phil Knight said that the crew assembled by Moore, despite their professed enthusiasm, would not be happy making sneakers day in and day out. Would you? I guess the bottom line has to do with the life span of nations. When looking at civilizations throughout recorded history, it seems that, on average, they last about 200 years. Now let's see, subtract 1776 from 2004 … anybody got a calculator?

Assuming your job has gone to Indonesia and you have time on your hands, you can contact the author at:


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