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David Lubic

I personally think a lot of this is driving the shenanigans you see on Wall Street and other such places.

Introducing a new product has always been difficult and risky. It gets harder and harder when the current products are already quite good. Cars are incredibly reliable today. I remember when they weren't--remember the oil leaks, the water leaks, the vacuum leaks, the air leaks (tires), the fuel leaks, the voltage regulators that didn't regulate, and rust.

There were also the spark plug wires that didn't stay on spark plugs. Drive along, and the engine starts to miss badly. Stop, open the hood, find the loose wire, and feel "ZZZZZZZZZZTTTT" from the high voltage coming out of the distributor. Shut the engine off, and feel "SSSSSSSSSSTTT" from the red hot exhaust maniford that ran over the spark plug locations.

You have nothing of that in a modern car!

So how do you make it really better, really advanced? It's tough.

Basically, it means that American "opportunity" is running out. The day of a new product coming out of a garage or a basement or a spare room is over. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford couldn't make it today--and I'm not sure Bill Gates could start over either.

So where does your business "growth" come from in such a world? There are two ways that I see.

One is economize, economize, cut every expense you can. I call this Wal Mart disease. It's named for how you often find a Wal Mart with 30 cash registers but only two are operational.

The other approach is to dable in things like stock manipulation and even outright fraud. Less effort and less risk than making anything new, even fraud can look attractive if you work for a company that's "too big to fail" (which also means "too big to send to jail").

I think the attitude in these sorts of firms is "Get it while the gettin's good, 'cause it won't be good much longer." I see things going that way--and it wouldn't surprise me if the Wall Street crowd sees the same thing, and sees it even sharper than I do with all the analysts they have available.

I don't have any real answers. I do know that our economy is somehow going to have to change from "5% growth this year, and 5% growth next year" to no growth.

Basically the big billionaires are going to have to do what they tell us to do--to be satisfied with what they have--but they don't see that yet, wouldn't want to accept it at all.

We are in a pickle.

David Lubic

Now most people might not have all of this by 1930, but by that date a modern kitchen would have hot and cold running water available, would have a stove that ran on gas or electricity instead of coal or wood, and a mechanical refrigerator would even be available. All of this would be rather primitive looking--the sind would look like what we call a farm sink today, the stove would look like something out of a restaruant with a black top surface and the oven at one end in white porcelain with another color such as green, blue, or black, and the refrigerator would look like the robot Kronos in the 1957 movie of that name, but you would have the basic tools of your modern kitchen.

That kitchen starts to look more familiar by 1950 (or even 1940). You have what I call your package stove available (cooking top over the oven, controls on a panel in back or at the front), refrigerators start to take on modern form (freezer on top, chiller underneath, special drawers for meat and vegetables, racks in the door for eggs, butter, milk bottles), and--the biggest change--the sink and the cabinets are built in, replacing the farm sink and Hoosier cabinet.

The whole business would look very retro, and certainly there have been improvement made in the appliances (electric igniters instead of pilot lights on gas stoves, better insulation and self-defrosting in the refrigerator)--but overall, you have your modern kitchen. About the only real differences after 1950 would be dishwashers (available but expensive), micorowave ovens, and air conditioning.

Would you go into business today making kitchen appliances and take on GE, Frigidaire, and whoever else is doing that today?

At one time people made fortunes in porcelain fixtures--tubs, sinks and the like--for kithens and bathrooms. Would you or anyone else want to go into business and take on American Standark, Kohler, and the rest?

David Lubic

Thank you for the comment on the "diminshing returns" concept.

It's not just roads and cars, though there is much of the concept in those.

For instance, the modern Corvette has an engine descended from the original small block V-8 of 1955. It's capable of over 600 hp in the Corvette. I can remember when such an engine was race-only and wouldn't idle below 1,200 rpm, and you had to tear it down every time you ran it because it was tearing itself up inside when it ran.

Today that's a street motor--docile, tame, reliable.

The rest of the car is equally an engineering masterpiece. Carbon fiber springs, wonderful disc brakes, extremely sticky tires, an aluminum frame that looks like a work of modern art--but this marvelous machine won't get you to work faster than a 1955 Volkswagen!

Put it this way--who would go into business to build cars today? Who could go into that business, and design a car advanced enough, or at least distinctive enough, to take on Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes Benz, and others, other than Elon Musk?

And Musk's straight electric Tesla has a problem in financing. By running only on electricity, it pays no gas tax. It does not support the road system.

We need a new road finance model, too.

It's not just cars. Think of a moder kitchen, then in your mind go back to 1950, then to 1930, then to 1900 or before.

In 1900, a modern kitchen would have a stove with a water heater built in, and a Hoosier cabinet (those cabinets with the special drawer for bread and the sugar and flower containers and the porcelain work surface you could pull out.

William Draves

Quite right David. Yes, fear and desire for the way-it-was is a major "driving" factor in the way older people approach the 21st century.

I liked your point about diminishing returns.

David Lubic

An interesting observation--in my opinion (for whatever that's worth, which is usually not much!), a lot of the "unwillingness to understand," and the desire to fight the changes (such as the opposition to an expanded private rail system in Florida) is driven by fear.

Specifically, a lot of that opposition is apparently older people who grew up between about 1950 and the first Arab oil embargo in 1973, whcn gasoline about doubled overnight from 35 cents per gallon to 60 and then 70 cents per gallon. At 60 years of age, I remember that.

For those now-older people, it's like a crisis of faith. Their vision of what the future should be,indeed their idea of the basic character of America as they believed it to be and would always be, no longer is true. It looks stupid, it looks like undoing progress, it looks like turning the clock backward.

What they do not see, do not comprehend, is that in a lot of ways, we are hitting diminishing returns, if not outright limits, on the American dream as it was in, say 1957. That America no longer works as well as it did, if it works at all.

Sometimes you go down a dead-end street or an alley. To go forward again you have to back up a ways. . .

David Lubic

"There are none so blind as those who will not see. . ."

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