Why America Doesn't Work Series
Like most business travelers, I often rent cars. So I was delighted one day last summer when a clerk at the airport rental counter offered me, as he described it, a "brand new car--only four hundred miles on it."
I pulled out of the rental lot, stopped at the guard's gate, and rolled down the window. Or rather, I tried to roll it down. The window crank came off in my hand.
Well, anyone can produce a lemon now and then.
But a few days later I read that the state police in Florida were having similar troubles. Their brand-new 350-horse-power cruisers had to be grounded. It seems the hub caps kept popping off on the highways. And at 60 miles an hour, a flying hub cap can be a lethal weapon.
Just another lemon? Or is there a pattern here? Is something wrong with America's products?
It used to be that "Made in America" was a stamp of approval. But these days, it can be more like a warning. In this year's J.D. Powers survey of customer satisfaction, no American car rated higher than 8th.
But our problems are not just in automobiles. We're producing less and exporting less in almost every category. From heavy manufacturing to electronic imaging technology, American products are losing ground to foreign competitors.
Just a few years ago we shipped 25 percent of the world's exports, the Japanese 6 percent. Now we've slipped down to 20 percent, while the Japanese have soared. They now match us.
Last year America was the only one among the seven great industrial nations to experience an actual decline in its standard of living.
Now, I'm no economist. But I do know something about people. And I know that if we want to uncover what's wrong with American industry we need to look beyond the statistics to the people who make industry work.
A recent survey found that forty-three percent of America's workers are highly cynical. They don't trust management or their co-workers. They don't think their pay is fair or that they have a fair shot at advancement. And eighty percent say that neither they nor their coworkers are working as hard as they could.
If we're looking for the causes of America's economic and industrial decline, we need look no further. The root is in the hearts and minds of American workers themselves. They no longer hold to a work ethic--the classic American virtues of thrift, industry, and quality.
And things show no sign of getting better. Look at all the disincentives we've built into the system. Students are not taught to work. They get happy face stickers instead of grades. The result: a recent study found that half our graduating seniors are incapable of holding--or even finding--a job.
And our welfare system has all kinds of disincentives to work. Think of it: Five million unwed mothers get monthly government checks--provided they don't work.
And our business system has become predatory, eating on itself. Our great tycoons are no longer the innovators who build great industries, but the Wall Street traders who get rich on paper futures and insider deals.
If America wants to revive its economic power, these are the things we need to change. We need to restore our work ethic.
My friend Jack Eckerd--founder of the Eckerd drug chain--and I have spent the last year studying a Christian perspective on work and the work ethic. We've written a book entitled Why America Doesn't Work. In the next two weeks on this broadcast, I'll be talking about some of the things we discovered as we wrote that book: about what happened to America's work ethic and, more important, how we can get it back.