If you were lucky enough to be born in time to witness the golden age of television, or at least the trailing end of it, you got to hear about a lot of different ages. The tail end of WWII ushered in the nuclear age. Later, a lot of people thought using nuclear power would be a good and cheap thing. They pushed off what to do with the waste for “a later date”. The country got used to the construction boom and was willing to wait for that date. Now, some of those “containment” facilities are no longer containing the waste and we are watching it seep into the ground water supply. Some people are waiting with baited breath for the Britta filter that removes radiation from tap water.
We’ve all seen news reel footage of the challenge to put a man on the moon and return him safely to this earth. Most say that was the true dawn of the Space Age. NASA was the pride of the nation and all kids wanted to be astronauts. Now NASA has become the gang that couldn’t shoot straight and we hope they don’t try anything that makes the news. Some call it the age of “faster, cheaper, splat”. Whatever you call it, the place can’t seem to do anything right for less than $20 billion. Even with that price tag it is iffy.
The widespread adoption and use of computers ushered in what some call the Age of Technology. Technology rippled through the world ingraining itself in the fabric of many nations. At one time, IT workers made good livings and spent well beyond their means buying $70K SUV’s and McMansion homes. Senior IT salaries were well above $100K/yr with bennies and life was good. The average price of a family sedan went from less than $8K to over $30K for the same level of vehicle. Automakers thought life was grand and their company leaders kept huge quantities of cash for themselves. Home builders and developers made money hand over fist keeping other high end providers well stocked with orders. The entire country adjusted to, and became accepting of the high prosperity.
Some years later, needing a new slogan for an election campaign, we saw the Information Age get born. Billions were going to be poured into creating an “Information Super Highway”. There was going to be a “ Global Community”. Technology was the new commodity in this brave new world. We also saw the forming of a “Global Village Council” become a task for “a later date”. There is no global village council for the same reason the UN takes forever to do anything. Everybody wants to rule, nobody wants to be ruled. Now, whatever is banned in your country, is legally for sale in other countries already on the Web. A nasty day of reckoning is headed everywhere over this debacle.
It didn’t take long for the spin doctors to realize they needed a new age. The DOT-BOMB flame out pretty much spelled it out for a blind man. Enter the Information Age. Information, not technology, was what everybody needed to get an edge. This was the new commodity in the new new new new economy. Ah, nice spin. Of course, you still needed technology to acquire, store and sift through that information, so it was a win-win political slogan.
All of those executives who weren’t raking in the massive stock options of the DOT-BOMB executives wanted to boost their personal take home. They had become accustomed to the large revenue streams their companies had selling overpriced goods to the IT professionals and wanted more. Then, they looked at this Internet thing and said “ Hey, we could off shore all of our IT workers for $10.00/day workers and make oceans more for ourselves…err…I mean our shareholders.” There was only one little problem. Somebody had to build enough of an infrastructure in those countries to make it work. That meant they had to tell other executives about it. No problem, they had industry marketing ex….err…I mean Industry Analyst firms to spread the religion of the next Mega-trend.
The marketing experts…I mean analysts were highly skilled at their jobs. They had been employed to push every worthless idea which came along (remember “right sizing”?). This was right up their alley. Suddenly everybody was hopping on the band wagon. The great purge began and highly skilled well paid IT workers were replaced with unskilled low paid workers. Ah, this was Utopia. Campaign contributions came pouring in to make certain this was done all legal like. Politicians who plaid their cards right couldn’t spend all of the money they got for their campaigns.
Finally, the other shoe dropped. While high gas prices were publicly blamed, the auto industry knew the real reason their dealer lots were filled with overpriced SUVs nobody bought. The target market had been eliminated. Oh, there were still some employed in IT, but they weren’t buying the overpriced rides anymore. They were buying used, or that other American car company, Toyota. (A lot of people get offended at that statement, but Toyota has enough plants in the USA to be considered an American car company, they just didn’t start here.)
The next to feel the bite were the builders. Real estate speculators kept prices artificially high for a while, but the air is coming out of the bubble now and a lot of them are eating places they cannot pay for. Following on their heels are the companies who made the high end toys for the McMansions. The $300 washer is finding its way into peoples homes instead of the $3000 stainless steel model. The same is true for kitchen appliances, entertainment systems and all other McMansion must-haves.
What happened is that politicians and executives started reading their own hype. They went on this journey looking no farther than the next quarter’s numbers. They ASS-U-MEd there would be no drop off in sales and they could “cost cut” their way to a larger valued stock option. Then back date the option to make it worth even more. In the immortal words of Ron White “You can’t fix stupid.”
Basically, everybody at the top appears to be in the mode of looking no farther than the next payoff. The credit card companies figured this out. They saw they were about to be victimized by this trend, poured huge amounts of cash into campaigns and viola! We have a new bankruptcy law protecting them. Why did they do this? Well, the unemployed IT workers believed the hype at first, and didn’t change their life styles. Only a few companies were doing this to be more competitive, they would have jobs soon. As the months dragged on the limits started getting hit and minimum payments were all that was coming in. The number of IT workers being shown the door increased and so did the amount at risk of default. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out they were all going to default soon and wipe out the assets of the credit card companies. So, another big round of payoffs (contributions) and an even bigger payoff (new bankruptcy law that didn’t reduce maximum credit card rates or penalties) was handed to them.
I’m sure the spin doctors will give it another name, but from where I sit, we all have just watched the beginnings of the Age of Corruption.