April Issue: A Required Read For Today's Youth

The past few weeks while traveling to conferences and stories, we were hearing various books being bantered about that either were or “should be” required reading for our public schools.

As we’ve witnessed the style and manner of the current political movements, the one book that constantly is brought back to mind is Orwell’s “1984.” This was a must read in the 60s and 70s, but seems to be rarely if ever mentioned, which is unfortunate. Orwell’s sci-fi fantasy appears to have come home to roost. We think exposure to today’s students would provoke a much needed discussion, hopefully one that would put the cancer that is political correctness and the unintended dire consequences of such a flawed philosophy to the forefront. It parallels with current philosophy of winning at any price, winner take all, tolerance confined to what a single side subscribes to with zero interest in finding any middle ground.

Restoring public forests?

On the heels of 30 (yes, three decades) of planning, re-planning, revamping, extensive public hearings, arm twisting, posturing, with much fanfare the USFS finally released the “Final Planning Rule” for our National Forests. The release noted:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final Planning Rule for America’s 193-million acre National Forest System that includes stronger protections for forests, water, and wildlife while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities.

This final rule - which follows USDA’s Feb. 3 publication of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement - replaces the 1982 rule procedures currently in use, and provides a new framework to be used for all individual management plans for 155 national forests and grasslands across the country. Over half of Forest Service units are currently operating with plans that are more than 15 years old.

We’ve grown accustomed to reading news releases, and note within the guts and feathers of this the undertone of vagueness and slippery language that has the thumbprints of the legal community who know how to milk a good cash cow when they’ve created it.

Wiser heads point to this “final rule” as less of an action plan than an invitation to prolong the process and enhance litigational opportunities for the many legal firms lusting for the pot of cash that is the U.S. Treasury.

The original intent of multiple-use management is but a distant memory.

Do not haul out your whips for the U.S. Forest Service. They continue to be a ship without a rudder because the U.S. Congress, in their haste to be environmentally proper added to existing law over the past few decades allowing various federal agencies to trump other agencies expertise leaving forest management in the wake, and gutting the economic base of rural communities in the name of environmentalism theoretically, but in reality providing a steady income stream for decades for countless attorneys, as the national forests retired to Neverland.

The only solution to the malaise of our public forest is congressional action to revamp and coordinate the five laws that govern our public lands, and there is absolutely no interest whatsoever for that to occur. While this screams for leadership congress has no interest in diving into that tar pit, at least not in our lifetimes. It speaks volumes as to why public ownership of lands sounds good while in reality where everyone owns it, no one is responsible or accountable.

While we’re sure many are cheering this as a grand accomplishment, when the dust settles the public servants, the legal community, and the environmental community have all been well paid over the course of this exercise, while the communities and citizens have languished. It is a damnable shame.

Opportunity, attitude, and proof

We talk with many young people just out of college or nearing graduation and hear the same message: “... there’s no opportunity and they’re deeply in hawk from college loans.”

Recalling the dark ages when I was at that point in life, just as many of our friends had done, I’d worked to earn the money that put me through college. It was not some noble effort, and though my folks would likely have helped me out, I felt it was a point of pride to be out on my own and making my own way. Part of the incentive in staying in school came from the guys I worked with during the summers, spring and Christmas breaks, (when i’d return to the mill to supplement funds and keep me afloat) and listening to them go on and on about how bored they were, hated their job, etc., etc. even thought they had NO risk and NO headaches... when their shift was completed, it was the next guys issue not theirs... except for the really exceptional folks I admired, who were bent on figuring the issue of the day out and fixing it. I liked that a lot... and typically those were the same people who advanced, made better money, etc.

The lesson was clear... finding solutions paid, whining didn’t.

What we see for problems and headaches today is not particularly different from what we saw 40+ years ago. Life can be a struggle, things can be difficult, however opportunity is there now, just as it was when I’d got out of college in 1971 but it doesn’t come knocking and throwing heaps of cash in your hands. For those who seek it... its there.

What has changed is our economic base, which has, in many cases, been chased away from our own shores elsewhere... where there is “greater opportunity” available and fewer hindrances to business. Anyone in business can appreciate that hindrances go well beyond the growing scope and girth of rules and regulations, and boils down to the general contempt of some in our political culture to business in particular and capitalism in general. The general misunderstanding comes from their sheer ignorance of business as being a risky venture, with no guarantees whatsoever to success.

The opportunity our younger population feels they are missing appears to come from their being no easily accessible route to a living wage job, and to some degree i concur. When in college the community my parents lived in had six mills with living wage jobs, all based on the natural resources that surrounded us. Today none remain and its economic base is but a shadow of its former self. Those mills were not the nice “clean” industries the progressives felt should reflect the future. A good idea, however one needs to be mindful of what they wish for... and mindful that throwing out the baby with the bathwater may not be the wisest course of action.

In business, modernizing is driven by markets and innovation and you value your work force. In governmental policy, the value of existing industry is typically ignored and taxed, while incoming industry is “incentivized” with tax concessions of all sorts for the good of the future... perhaps. 40 years after the fact, those mills, their payrolls (and summer jobs for college students) have vanished to markets where they are welcomed.

As seems to occur with alarming yet predictable frequency (at least to some of us), poor policy decisions, based on ideology alone, can have unintended consequences.

One such example of policy myopia: in the 1970s the (in this case Oregon) legislature, in their infinite wisdom, changed the labor laws essentially eliminating a slew of summer jobs for youth, and seriously reduced jobs available for high school aged youth by changing the rules, all in the belief it would create a better world. The unintended consequences of this “progressive” legislation left kids with nothing to do during most of the summers, also leaving exposure to a “work ethic” early in life to their late teens, when many of their life habits were established. The progressive mindset, however, failed to consider that possibility.

We see similar “wisdom” extolled virtue currently and promoted with vigor in touting the brilliance of knocking out dams, eliminating coal as an energy resource, eliminating all that “messy” industry, and placing rules, regulations and onerous fines for misdeeds that essentially kill what exists without ever asking HOW any of what they produce might be replaced BEFORE the tried and proven means are removed from the scene.

The reason many of the nouveau ideologies of today push a change with such urgency, because their overwhelming intolerance of the present they know could not stand up under serious review of what unintended consequences their scheme may bring.

There’s a reason former House Speaker Pelosi wanted her Health Care program voted on before people read it, and why this administration is anxious to push “stimulus” programs, massive spending programs, unaccountable appointed czars in control of government programs, etc. The test is not for programs and policies that work, but policies that match their radical ideology, with the hope once they’re adopted it will be more difficult to change or remove them.

The wealth of our nation is built from our own abundance of natural resources, and the creative industry of our citizenry, and our faith in a better tomorrow. The last time we had a generation being told opportunity and our best years were behind us, the ever agreeable Pres. Jimmy Carter was in office. Our current President reminds me a great deal of Pres. Carter.

For our democratic republic to work, we need to get off our collective keisters, stop looking for someone else to do the hard work, and actively participate in our government. Apathy is not an option. Without our participation this treasure in history can easily perish.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what type of government the Constitution was bringing into existence. Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Things are improving, gradually

Several years ago at the AOL (Associated Oregon Loggers) Annual Meeting, immediately after the economy fell off the table and cratered in 2008, we heard a presentation from a knowledgeable east coast economist who got it right noting this economic cycle (the plummet of 2008 would not be a rapid drop followed by a rapid resurgence of business, but a “long, slow, gradual recovery.”

That’d proven to be right on the money. His prediction that we’d see a housing recovery in 2011 missed the graph by a wide margin, but in fairness, no one had any idea the depth and breadth of damage from the financial housing markets toxicity, not only the damage wrought by the lunacy in housing markets, but wholesale abandonment of any business principles for so many of the players involved, from speculators in land, finance, insurance, developers and more.

Congress, that bastion of wisdom, humility, and myopic vision, played a major part in meddling with the markets and insisting that everyone should “have the right” to own their own home, whether they had the cash, experience, background or interest in actually taking ownership beyond grabbing for ‘free’ federal money. While charitably this came about with the best of intentions, it seems bereft of forethought had anyone bothered to consider the consequences if: 1) people couldn’t pay their mortgage, 2) couldn’t maintain the home, or 3) the housing market value went down in value rather than up... duh.

Lots of hands were involved congressionally, and the few who wanted to bring this train wreck under some semblance of control were shouted down by the many who stood to, and did, profit nicely... policy be damned. The national media’s again abandoned its role of skepticism of all sides to the more ‘enlightened’ role of picking who were good guys and bad guys, rather than noting the follies and failures embedded in the “get something for nothing,” and “get rich quick” ideology evident throughout this fiasco from at least a decade or two prior. There are many fingerprints on this mess.

Jumping forward to 2012 the hangover in the housing market is the number of homes, properties, projects, developments either in or near foreclosure. UNTIL they are cleared up, and their value in the market stabilized, the hangover will carry on as it has. Regardless of intention, as long as those properties are left in the position of limbo, rather than being allowed to find their true value in the market, the housing crunch will continue on because (for example) if the property isn’t allowed to meet and find its market level, lenders, borrowers, builders, etc.

Many in congress, this administration in particular, would like for this bit of reality where real people lose homes they cannot afford now, and likely were unable to afford even prior to the meltdown, to go away with time. Thus letting reality come to pass, people who made poor decisions for whatever reason, losing those homes, banks taking the loss in values, declaring their real value as the market will pay, and putting them back into the market and clearing the inventory, actually serves the lesson that makes capitalism work: invest wisely and prudently you profit, invest foolishly and recklessly, you lose.

Doing otherwise, as we continue to see with the meddling of congress, merely prolongs the pain.

Thus in this political year, the incumbents want to take credit for this gradual improvement we’re seeing in business, even though it is still pretty tentative. The truth of the matter, however is this: the business engine that is American enterprise is resilient, strong, and is in the midst of recovery because of its own strength and drive.

Not only did Congress, and in particular THIS anti-business administration, have NOTHING to do with the current recovery, they’ve done their absolute inept best to derail it through their asinine blind dedication to rules, regulations, excessive growth of government, and general ineptitude.

The hope in the nearing election is in our younger generation finally realizing the government intervention and interference does not represent their hope for a better future, but a looming anchor, and vacuum that’s swallowing opportunity for a better future through creativity, in addition to passing a massive debt to their heads as well (How is this a benefit?).

There is no such thing as spending yourself to prosperity, not in logging, not in government, not in life, just as their is no such thing as a free lunch.