I am the son of a shopkeeper. His name was Kendall and his shop was a sporting goods store in a small town in southern Missouri. I repeat, in a small town and in a physical store where scale was measured in square feet not bandwidth.
My Dad first felt the tectonic plates move when Walmart began to sell tennis balls at a retail price that was less than he could buy them at a wholesale price. Same tennis balls, same can, same brand, checkmate.
One of Dad’s top selling brands was Rawlings. Rawlings made much of what it sold in plants that were not that many miles from Dad’s store. Rawlings now makes baseballs in Costa Rica and while it made some custom baseball gloves at a plant in Washington, Missouri, it no longer makes any gloves in the United States. It has been bought and sold several times by a combination of bigger businesses and private equity firms.
Rawlings was particularly strong in baseball. I can still see in my mind’s eye a picture on the store wall with Dad standing next to hall of famers Stan Musial and Warren Spahn.
Early lessons are deeply embedded. They followed me to the White House one day. I found myself with the Secretary of Commerce, Malcolm Baldrige, in the cabinet room. Baldrige was arguing with the Treasury Secretary, George Schultz, about forming a semiconductor chip consortium of U.S. companies so they could gain the necessary scale to compete with Far East producers. Schultz argued against what is called “industrial policy” and said the laws of comparative advantage should prevail. Free market orthodoxy prevailed. I was not called on to talk about my Dad’s experiences.
I can just imagine the angst in the right of center think tanks—Donald J Trump took them on and prevailed. My Dad would have never supported Trump—his conduct breached virtually everything Dad taught my brother and me. He would, however, have understood the Trump voter. He understood shopkeepers and women who wound and stitched baseballs in small town plants.
In the meantime, the global supply chain will not go away and it shouldn’t. The severe disruption caused by the rapid spread of digital technologies will also persist. The stock market pays daily tribute to both and in particular to those companies whose platforms are global. An Economist writer noted: “Their dominant positions in this world of platforms give companies like Facebook and Google powers approaching or surpassing those of many countries.”
But what about the shopkeepers and the people who make things and provide services to both? While their ethnic origins are diverse, I do know today’s economy discriminates against them. It is not personal or emotional, it just is.
But back to those who make laws not baseballs. The kings and queens of politics are not a humble group and this is particularly true in Washington. Few have been shopkeepers or ever worked on a plant floor. Any? Yet they will spin out theories and manipulate statistics while attacking their opposite number. And as they do, they add another chapter to the accumulating cynicism of America’s voters. A cynicism that Trump exploited and a cynicism that the coastal elites disparage without understanding.
The pandemic has forced schools to pivot to digital technologies. Zoom has become as knowable as recess. Maybe there has been a digital awakening in educational circles about the future and where their students fit in because America must prepare students for the world as it is. If Americans, of whatever ethnicity, cannot hold their own with the Chinese and if the governments cannot figure out how to be both local and global, Americans will be the disrupted, not the disrupters.
Before I conclude I want to take a minute on fairness. How many small businesses can move their production overseas? Or, select foreign venues for tax purposes? Or, engineer their pay so most of the income is taxed at the lower capital gains rate?
And for those who have been able to convert elite college degrees to wealth, when you are solicited by your alma mater ask whether you can earmark a gift to help the college work in areas where early childhood education is especially needed. Or maybe give at least a small gift to a community college that is helping to retrain those whose skills have become obsolete.
Digitized globalism is a reality. And an equally important reality is that in America, small business is essential. If capitalism is only for the big, then the small will rebel and should. When laws and regulations are passed, taxes determined, and enforcement set in motion, it must be understood that the attributes of today’s economy discriminate against people who, using their own capital and energy, serve us every day.
There is a difference between popularity and loyalty. President Trump seems not to understand the fine points. Mostly, popularity determines who wins or loses elections.
The President began almost immediately after his election to diminish his popularity. The result: he lost. Now he has gone to Georgia spewing dissension in his own Party at the considerable risk of losing the U.S. Senate.
President’s Trump’s voice will continue as he terrorizes the ambitious in his Party; but his popularity, even among his loyalists, will fade. He will not hold political office again.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.