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Archive for the ‘Pure Opinion’ Category

Wall Street Journal Opinion Page May 25, 2012 No, You Can’t Spend Yourself Rich in the Real World

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Wall Street Journal Opinion Page May 25, 2012

No, You Can’t Spend Yourself Rich in the Real World

by: Geoff Ficke

François Hollande and his and Mr. Swoboda’s suggested policies aren’t drivers of growth but of accelerating decline. Note the increasing numbers of the French producing class fleeing the country for England.

The economic template that would serve the EU well is on display in the center of the continent. Switzerland and Germany revere hard work, thrift, excellence in their products and not spending what they do not have. Even a former welfare queen like Sweden has reformed and unbridled its economy from the self-imposed shackles of socialist policies, and growth is accelerating there. The Swedes and Swiss were smart enough to stay out of the EU.

Mr. Swoboda is salivating for more of exactly what hasn’t worked and will never work. For almost 100 years varying styles of utopian socialist policies have been thrust on populations around the world. From Romania to Cuba to Zimbabwe they have only led to everyone, except the ruling class, being poor together.

Tip of the Day

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

To launch a new consumer product or service, and be successful, you must be able to cut through market clutter. “My product is better, we use better ingredients”, etc. will not work. You must define and capitalize on a niche to define your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

Tip of the Day

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

When seeking an opportunity (job, professional help, investment, strategic alliance, partnership, venture capital, etc.) ALWAYS customize your introductory approach. Never use a template or a generalized approach. If your product or service is valuable to your target you must convey that value. You only get one chance to make a Great First Impression!

The High Priestess of Personal Freedom Enjoys a 21st Century Rebirth in Popularity

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

by: Geoff Ficke

As a young college student in the 1960’s I was swept up in the exciting, confrontational political climate of that period. The Viet Nam War was raging, the military draft was still activated, John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been taken from us by assassination. The Beatles changed rock ‘n roll music forever and the movie “The Graduate” changed pop culture.

I graduated from school and began my career in business carrying; maybe burdened would be a better description, these influences at the core of my being. I was liberal without having enough of life’s experiences to really know why I was liberal or what that meant. I saw the world as flawed and felt that collectively we could make things better, safer, more peaceful and fairer. It made me feel good to want these things, although I had no understanding of how to make these altruistic goals obtainable.

Winston Churchill once famously said, “A man who is conservative at the age of 20 is heartless, a man who is liberal at 40 is a fool”. I was soon to cross the bridge from dreamer to realist, much as described by Churchill. I started my own business. That was when reality struck, and hit right between my eyes.

At about the time I made the leap into entrepreneurialism I was introduced to the writer, philosopher Ayn Rand. I read her monumental novel Atlas Shrugged. It was attitudinally, philosophically and politically a life changing experience for me.

Every idea I had nurtured from my formative years was called into question by the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Rand’s libertarian philosophy, she called it “Objectivism”, is on full display in this powerful, logically based tale of the benefits and pre-eminence of individual rights. In the story, the productive, creative, ambitious, driven class of individuals, lead by John Galt, essentially goes on strike. Quite the opposite of a mass union strike, this stoppage by the few brings crisis to the many and itemizes the reasons that capitalism is the only economic system that can benefit the most people most often.

The power of Ayn Rand’s thinking, as evidenced by the characters and stories she wrote are enjoying a renaissance today. Born in Russia, she had fled that country after the rise of communism. Her experiences growing up in a totalitarian place made her a fierce opponent of all the “-ism’s”, communism, fascism, socialism, all forms of statism and collectivism.

At the core of the Rand philosophy was a concept based on limited government, laissez faire capitalism and individual rights. She believed that doing what was best for one-self was the only duty a person owed to society. Altruism was destructive to Ayn Rand. The modern liberal, now interestingly called “progressive”, despises the Rand view of man and believes her views reflect selfishness. And yet, it is only through the “selfishness” of the productive, entrepreneurial, risk taking class that all of society reaps the benefits of their creative, industrious enterprise. Poor people do not create jobs, and thus income, and thus taxes that support all level of government altruism and waste.

In this belief, Ayn Rand was really a modern acolyte of Adam Smith, the original philosopher of capitalism. Smith popularized the “invisible hand”, the concept that by profiting and seeking advantage for ourselves, we inadvertently provide benefit for others. America’s Founding Fathers resoundingly agreed with this philosophy and incorporated this principal into the Bill of Rights and Constitution. Rule of law, private property rights, individual rights and limited government enjoyed supremacy in the Founder’s eyes. These principles, so taken for granted and abused by government today, are the very glue that differentiates successful states from dysfunctional ones.

The early years of the 21st century will not be treated kindly by future historians. The lessons that history teaches are being ignored. Thomas Jefferson said, “He is governed best, who is governed least”. Who amongst us can honestly say that we are well governed by our all intrusive welfare, nanny-state?

The lessons and philosophy crafted by Ayn Rand have never gone away. Atlas Shrugged is the most popular book ever published, after the Holy Bible. Sales are again spiking for this, and all of Rand’s books. Because of the awkward intrusiveness and overreaching hand of government, there seems to be a revival of interest in the ideas represented by John Galt and Howard Roark in “The Fountainhead”.

Ayn Rand is the High Priestess of libertarian, free thought. As long as men seek to live free from the oppressive hand of tyranny and bungled government over-activism her place in history will be secure. There has never been a better time than 2010 to dust off old copies of Ayn Rand’s thought provoking classic tales and rekindle the passion for freedom that she so passionately portrays in her works.

…And We Want the Government to Do What?

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

by: Geoff Ficke

I am always amazed when I see well educated, seemingly worldly people make themselves look and sound silly by promoting ever more aggressive expansion of government. We are currently in our national election cycle, admittedly the silly season for politicians. This year, however, the “nanny state” prescriptions on offer seem particularly vacuous.

The one absolute I KNOW about government is this: Government is not in business to solve problems, government is in business to institutionalize problems!

Bureaucracies evolve to protect and expand their turf. All start with claims of the highest purpose. The perceived need to address some element of life that has been under-regulated or policed will be assigned to a phalanx of bureaucrats and we, the public, will be able to sleep much better as a result. Think about this fact and ask yourself: Where has a bureaucracy ever settled a problem, cured an injustice, or efficiently functioned.

Private enterprises, churches, charities and entrepreneurs live in a competitive maelstrom. They adapt to market realities or they die. Look at the original Dow Jones Industrial Average members from the early 20th century and ask, “where are they now”? General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, behemoth international concerns, are in a real struggle for survival. Their conduct of affairs and changing business models will determine if they go the way of Montgomery Ward, Sharper Image, Wang Computer, American Motors and Bell and Howell and float off into that corporate graveyard in the sky.

The reason we enjoy the most advanced economic lifestyle in history is precisely because private enterprises can, and do fail. Not, however, government agencies and bureaucracies. They simply grow, bigger, fatter, more sluggish and flaccid. This relentless growth is accompanied by the continual whaling for more. More bureaucrats, more funding, more rules; just give us more and this time we will get the job done.

The economy is currently experiencing a cyclical softening. A study of economic history indicates that we go through something akin to this every seven or eight years. When the economy slows, tax receipts logically slow as well. What we get from government at all levels is the familiar bromide: “We are cut to the bone”!

No we are not. There is no government agency that can find the bone. The waste, fraud, program duplication, over-staffing and lack of productivity endemic in government at all levels is simply stupendous.

The government enjoys a monopoly in the running of mail delivery through the Post Office. It ain’t called snail mail for no reason. The service requires a subsidy each and every fiscal year to cover losses. If it were a business, it would be gone.

Marvin Runyan was the Postmaster General for President Jimmy Carter. The business model for what would become Federal Express was in the process of raising venture capital funding during his tenure. When asked about the concept of overnight package delivery from anywhere, to anywhere, with guaranteed next day delivery, Mr. Runyan commented: “It can’t be done”.

The perfect metaphor for government bureaucracy: “It can’t be done”!

The government must subsidize billions of dollars of losses each year for Amtrak. Passport processing is a national embarrassment. Medicare fraud is reported and confirmed to the tune of tens of billions of dollars each year. IRS computer systems, after massive spending, are archaic. The list of waste, corruption and ineptitude in government, at all levels is astounding.

We have a $9 trillion national current accounts debt. Far worse, we have a debt for Social Security and Medicare of somewhere (nobody can really calculate this accurately) north of $50 trillion! For a fraction of this level of mismanagement, managers of private enterprises are put in jail.

Whenever a city announces a public investment in building sports stadiums or museums you can count on the fact that the edifice will come in late and over budget. The same with any road project. The “Big Dig” in Boston, or the Los Angeles subway, were classic examples of incompetence and mismanagement.

Recently I visited my old parochial high school. While speaking with the Principal I noticed students unloading a truck and taking used desks into the school building. I commented about the desks, “where did they come from”? His reply: a neighboring public high school received a grant that they used to purchase new desks. “They offered them to us, or they would be thrown away. We will get another 20 years use out of them”. Maybe this is just one small anecdotal instance, but multiply this by millions of such irresponsible decisions and the harm done to our economy, and to taxpayers, is simply too stupendous to calculate.

Why is there no outrage? In fact, we experience the antithesis of outrage: we vote the bums back in, election cycle after election cycle. Each political party, all candidates, every year promise more of what any blind man can see does not work.

There is a simple cure (it will never happen, though). No person who receives a government check should be allowed to vote. Government employees, program beneficiaries, contractors or lobbyists should never be able to vote for a politician who has the ability to promise a financial benefit paid for with other peoples money. This is bribery in its simplest form.

Since it will never happen, how about this for a dose of common sense: Simply vote for the politician promising the smallest government. The idea that the government can successfully nationalize oil companies, or manage our medical system is ludicrous. There is no evidence that government operated bureaucracies at any level will be examples of good operative governance.

Proponents of these hare brained schemes are too stupid to be entrusted with such power. They, and their acolytes, should simply be asked: “What have you ever successfully managed”? Common sense is in monumentally short supply when evaluating the real performance of local, state and national government agencies. To fund evermore waste, fraud and corruption flies in the face of everything that we empirically know actually goes on in this cesspool.

Our Demise Is Greatly Overstated The United States’ Future is Incandescent

Friday, November 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

As we slog along under the full weight of the current financial calamity, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth about the future of the United States. Many of our countries fiercest enemies and critics are gloating over their perception that our wave has crested and we have entered a period of steep decline as an economic, military and cultural power. Amongst the citizenry, there is a palpable sense that the country is on the wrong track. In reality this has ever been so.

The 19th century Canadian politician Wilfrid Laurier once famously spouted, “the 19th century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century”. Oh really! Now I love Canada and Canadians. They produce wonderful comedians like Jim Carrey, John Candy and Rick Moranis, great hockey players, the moose hunting is amazing and Labatt’s is a terrific brew. The Canadians prospered nicely in the 20th century, but by any measure Mr. Laurier’s observation was classic balderdash. He is but one of a long chorus of critics that prematurely dismissed American prospects to their regret and embarrassment.

The current President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev has blamed the United States solely for the global financial crisis, assigned blame for Russia’s thuggish unilateral military invasion of tiny Georgia on American policy and stated that America would descend to second tier status as a global power. This from the leader of a country with a declining population, staggering levels of alcoholism and drug abuse, clepto-capitalism, a military hobbled by desertion and archaic weapons systems, declining productivity and a complete lack of innovation. How bright is the future of the average Russian eking out a living in Vladisvostock?

There are always doubters and cheerleaders fueling the notion that America is in decline. The Soviet and Eastern European Communists, for 70 years predicted they would overcome us. Nikita Kruschev famously shouted at the United Nations, “we will bury you”. Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda believed that we would never stand and fight; shedding blood and treasure, just to preserve our freedoms. Hussein is dead and Bin Laden is hiding in a cave as a result of their misjudgments and fundamental misunderstandings of our resolve.

American uber-leftists like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky travel the world trashing the United States. The capitalist system that has enabled the country to prosper and made the Moore’s and Chomsky’s rich, is continually denigrated and blamed for every perceived malady we face. Capitalism is not perfect. It simply is the greatest engine for economic prosperity ever yet developed.

Why will America emerge from our current difficulties with a brighter, stronger future outlook than so many of our critic’s project? Simply put, America has the ability to adapt and re-invent itself like no other country or culture in history. We are more receptive to immigrants than almost any other country and they constantly infuse the land with energy, creativity and continually stir the stew that makes the United States so unique. Our society is the most fluid in the history of the world. New ideas are always emerging. America’s unique vitality separates us from most other countries that have static state centered economies.

There is no place on earth, at any time in history, where entrepreneurial activity is so valued and pursued as in America. This constant blast of creativity bears fruit in so many beneficial ways. Through hard work, novelty and inventiveness, utilizing the capitalistic economy, rule of law and property rights, entrepreneurs have the potential to build enterprises that provide products and services, profits, employment and social benefits that make America uniquely dynamic. Times are tough, but the will to succeed is irrepressible.

Another reason the future for America is so bright in my estimation is our ability to laugh at ourselves. This country has many sourpuss types, doomsayers, negativists and self-haters. However, these “nattering nabobs of negativism” are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Americans that revere the country, appreciate her innate precious goodness and have the ability to laugh at our collective foibles and faults. This is a trait of which we can, and should be proud. It is a trait that is found almost nowhere else in the world.

We have survived wars, depressions, natural disasters, and terrorism. The fiscal difficulties we currently confront are in large part self-inflicted. We have not been diligent in demanding that our government act prudently over the last 75 years. We spend too much and save too little. We want much more than we need. We confuse greed and envy with comfort and safety.

The country also just elected a black man, a minority, to be President of the United States. This could only happen in America. Could a North African rise to such heights in France? Could a Turkish immigrant achieve the equivalent office in Germany? Could a Filipino laborer rise to these heights in the Middle East? Of course not! This country, its values and opportunities, is the beacon of hope that ordinary people all over the world aspire to emulate.

This is a wonderful time for each of us as citizens to take stock of our personal and societal situations and adjust to a reality that is based on real needs, not the irrational pursuit of materialism. We must demand that politicians stop bribing us for our votes with promises of benefits that some future generation will be saddled with paying for. This is the best possible time for Americans to reflect, adjust and re-energize this wonderfully dynamic country.

Problems Are Arriving In Great Batches And That Can Be a Very Good Thing!

Monday, October 27th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

William Shakespeare” famous quote from Hamlet, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”, is particularly relevant today. All of the news seems bad. The negative numbers are huge. The human devastation seems interminable. Governments everywhere seem to have lost control. Debt is perverse on a personal, corporate and governmental level. This glass seems to be mostly empty. It is not!

From the depths of disaster grow the seeds of opportunity. Much as Mother Nature’s wildfires clear overgrowth and enables fields and forests to regenerate themselves, so does the opportunity that germinates from social and financial meltdown. The removal of diseased institutions affords entrepreneurs and reformers the chance to fill an essential void.

Throughout history dynasties, dictatorships and tyrants have risen, and ultimately fallen. They are usually replaced by something much better. The violence of the French Revolution enabled Napoleon Bonaparte to turn France into a warrior state under his dictatorial rule. His “Waterloo” enabled the state to develop into a modern democratically governed republic. The Hapsburg’s in Germany, the Hohenzollern’s in Austria and the Bourbon’s in France all enjoyed the wealth, power and comforts of royal rule before being deposited on the junk heap of history.

Hitler in Germany, Hirohito in Japan and the Communist dictators of Russia all fell and were succeeded by democratic governments with a modern, more open style of governance. Their oppressive rule guided their populations disastrously to decades of war, hunger and societal despair. Something much better has acceded their brutality.

Businesses have historically expired if they did not evolve and regenerate themselves as markets progressed toward new technologies. The home delivery of ice in the first half of the 20th century was replaced by the mass marketing of refrigerators. Carts, whip, buggy and bicycle manufacturers disappeared as the automobile developed as an affordable method of conveyance. The acceptance of Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb greatly diminished the need for thousands of local candle makers.

As the automobile industry developed there were hundreds of nameplates producing niche vehicles. Names like Packard, Stutz, Essex, LaSalle, Dusenburg, Austin and Cord and most other makes of automobile grew, stagnated and died as they could not compete with newly developed tastes, technologies, economies of scale and mass manufacturing techniques pioneered by magnates such as Alfred Sloan, Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler. General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler became behemoths with vast profits, international distribution and massive marketing programs. The rest simply faded away leaving little but reminiscences.

Today “The Big Three”, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are all staring at the grim reaper. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet quote’ “their sorrows are here, and they are here in battalions”. Every mistake that management and labor could make that would harm a commercial institution they have made, and often repeatedly so. Wrong choices in models, lack of recognition of the ultimate issue of fuel economy, boring styling, strangling union work rules and poor quality perceptions are just some of the reasons that “The Big Three” are so close to being the three, the two, or the one midgets. It appears highly unlikely that they will continue to exist as independent entities.

Much is made of the potential loss to the United States of any, or all of these iconic carmakers. And yet, automobile manufacturing in the country is booming. Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, Honda, BMW, Toyota, and Nissan have all built factories here in recent decades. Volkswagon has announced that they plan to, as well. Each of these makes has targeted features, styling and benefits that they incorporate into their machines that “The Big Three” had not identified. Also, they have all built their factories in “right to work” states, where labor union influence is minimal. While paying excellent wages and providing competitive benefits, these foreign Companies are not hog tied by arcane, non-productive work rules. They do not confront legacy costs that price domestic manufacturer’s models at such high retails.

We are all being effected by a global financial conflagration. The future economic welfare of citizens, industry and governments all over the world are intertwined and will be decided by how the people who got us into this mess approach getting us out. I use the pronoun “us, because we are almost all to blame.

Home foreclosures are surging because of stupidity and greed. People today, certainly in the developed countries, crave things they do not need and can not afford. Some people should not own homes. They can not afford the maintenance, the insurance, the down payment, or the taxes that accompany homeownership. A married couple with one child and a $3500 per month income, should never have attempted to purchase a $400,000 home, with 4 bedrooms, on a sub-prime loan with nothing down. They were fools, as was the lender, the mortgage broker and the buyer of the derivative that this loan was packaged into.

Banks and insurance Companies that purchased these esoteric mortgage derivative vehicles, historically hugely profitable, are falling like flies. Northern Rock in England, ING in Holland, Indy Mac, Countrywide, Wachovia and WaMu here, are only a few of the powerhouse financial institutions that are now closed, merged or selling off assets. The insurance giant AIG has been taken over by the government. Lehman Brothers, one of the most venerable, respected investment banks was shut down by the government. Merrill Lynch has been sold to Bank of America.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been hammered for their role in precipitating the credit bubble that has lead us to this precipice. The Congress, which passed laws spurring Fannie and Freddie to make dubious loans to non-creditworthy borrowers, is looking for scapegoats. A number of our sainted Congressmen want to see “perp walks”. I agree. However, I am confident that the real “perp’s” won’t walk.

The problems seem endless and daunting. They are coming “in battalions”. Nevertheless, we will survive this, hopefully learn from it, and prosper from the opportunity to fill the gaps opened by systemic failure. The equity markets appear to offer a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to profit from the steep losses incurred because of the panic the credit debacle has induced. Strong, agile financial institutions, such as Wells Fargo and State Street, will emerge to fill the vacuum left in the wake of the disappearance of hundreds of firms.

Individuals will have to make more prudent purchasing decisions. 84 and 96 months car loans will disappear, making luxury automobiles more difficult to acquire. “Skin in the game” in the form of down payments will be required to purchase real estate, benefiting the homeowner and the lender. Credit cards will be harder to obtain and the credit limits will be lower.

Every person can use this maelstrom as an opportunity to review real needs and wants. Living beneath one’s means might even make a comeback.

The Great American Whine

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Recently, Michelle Obama famously commented that for the first time in her life she was proud of her country. Her remarks were widely critiqued and rightly so, as she is potentially the next First Lady of the United States. Her delayed burst of enthusiasm for the land of her birth is no doubt enhanced by the fact that her husband, a black man with a limited resume, is unexpectedly the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

As the years have past and I enter the winter of my life, I find myself enduring a first time attitude adjustment of my own. It is quite the opposite of Mrs. Obama’s sentiments. I have become quite appalled at the constant whining of many American people. I have come to feel that I actually do not live in the same country I see and hear described by politicians, media elite’s and so many ordinary citizens as they continually whine about the state of various elements of life in the greatest country in the world.

Let me start by stating the obvious, at least obvious to any unbiased observer: there has never been a better time to be alive and an American!

There is more educational opportunity than ever before. There is more entrepreneurial opportunity and activity than ever before. There are more people working in the United States (legally and illegally) than ever before. There is more home ownership than ever before. People live longer, more productive lives than ever before. We spend the smallest percentage of our income on food of any generation in history. The United States is the only country in the world where the poorest citizens are fat, own cars, color televisions and air conditioners. The vast majority of people in the United States will never have to endure hard manual labor. Our medical technology and services are the most advanced in the world.

Our ability to invent new technologies, pioneer business models and entertain the world has never been greater. The opportunities for relaxation, travel and comfortably enjoying leisure are virtually endless and available to every citizen willing to participate in our economy. We have the greatest public, private and research universities in the world and students from all over the world striving to attend and enjoy the benefits these institutions provide. The United States has an unequalled history of charitable giving and supporting humanitarian causes around the world with no expectation of reciprocation of colonization. Immigrants, legal and illegal, try to come to the United States in record numbers and by-pass almost every other country in the world in pursuit of entry to our land.

And yet, almost every public opinion poll; political speech, news article and lecture paints a picture of a country dazed and confused. We are continually told we are on the wrong path. The economy is dire. The future is bleak. The middle class dream is no longer attainable. Health care is broken; one of my favorites. Environmental devastation is inevitable and America is the major culprit. Hogwash!

The current bleating over the health care system and it’s supposed imminent destruction is a wonderful example of my disgust with the whininess of my fellow citizens. In the long and glorious history of really stupid human ideas Communism, Nazism, Maoism and Luddite-ism are always the leaders. However, free medical care is about to overtake these massive failures and assume first place as dunder-headed folly.

I am 60 years old. I know there is a disease, a bug or a malady that is soon going to have my name on it and cause my ultimate demise. I do not want FREE medical care. I want more medical care! More cures! More research! More pharmaceutical breakthroughs! More technology! This takes money for research, requires investment and demands that profit opportunity justify the huge risks these ventures entail. The whiner’s want to cripple the companies and entrepreneurs that give us so many cures and treatments.

At the beginning of the 20th century the average life expectancy of an American citizen was 49 years. At the beginning of the 21st century life expectancy had increased to 79 years. This astonishing improvement had occurred in the face of an orgy of obesity, sedentary living, drug abuse, rampant alcoholism and personally avoidable diseases such as AID’s. Why don’t we hear these facts when the state of modern health care is discussed; we live longer, better lives even while many of us live imprudently.

Recently I was waiting in a pharmacy for a prescription to be filled. There were three other people in the waiting area and I had the occasion to over hear their banter (nee whining). The topic was the exorbitant cost of drugs, the pharmacy and drug company profits and the fact that they wanted somebody (nee government) to do something about it. One of the women was recovering from a stroke, one was obese, and the gentleman used a walker. All three were well over 70. A century ago all would probably (statistically) have been dead.

Is the billion-dollar investment involved in research and development of a life saving drug worth our paying for? Is it something to be thankful for? Is it a great time to be alive in America? The answer to all three questions is yes. As life gets better and better however, we whine more and more.

Entitlements have made us less resilient, less courageous. Politicians play to these weaknesses and promise a safer and safer existence with no exposure to risk and a government answer to every problem, even where problems really do not exist. The result is weakened resolve, loss of freedom and feeble attitudes best expressed by constantly whining. It is un-American and undeserving of a people blessed with such abundance.