30 / 06 / 2020

Don’t Look to the Government to Save You (or How to Be an Optimist in the Days of COVID-19)

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray endlessly relives a lousy day and finds himself losing all hope. If you’re like him and have been seeing the glass half-empty lately, then you’re not alone. But you’re also probably not an entrepreneur.

Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian

We’re near the halfway mark for 2020, and the pundits of the world are barely able to contain themselves as they try to “make sense” of all that’s happened. As America hurtles from one crisis to another, there aren’t enough hours in the day for them to opine about the myriad ways the country is coming apart at the seams, and how life as we know it will never be the same. This year, if you buy into their arguments, Chicken Little might finally be right.

Well, I for one ain’t buying. In fact, if any one of them utters the phrase “the new normal” one more time, I might need to be forcibly restrained.

My favorite example of this modern-day genre of despair commentary was a recent column in The New York Times by Farhad Manjoo that arrived with the eye-catching headline, “The Worst Is Yet to Come.” It seems the combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the bungled national response were enough to flip a switch and turn Manjoo from an eternal optimist to an infernal pessimist. The funniest part of the article — make that the only funny part — was the Tweet and accompanying picture of Manjoo inserted in the middle of the text: “Hi! I’m chatting live about my @nytopinion column on how I’ve gone from optimist to pessimist.” At least he’s still using exclamation marks, so it can’t be all bad!

Sadly, I was unable to chat live with Mr. Manjoo. But if I had, I would have asked him, first of all, when was the last time the media wasn’t sounding the trumpet of doom for whatever crisis du jour they were promoting, because, from my perspective, that trumpet blare is all I ever hear anymore. And secondly, when was the last time the federal government didn’t bungle its response to a crisis? Because from my perspective, bungling is pretty much what they do, concealed beneath a knee-jerk response that allows politicians to crow about addressing the problem when all they’ve done is kick it down the road. Consider the response to the Sept. 11 attacks. If there was anything that wasn’t bungled in the aftermath of that tragedy, I wish someone would point it out to me. How about that incredible Transportation Security Administration we got, eh?

Of course, it’s not just the federal government that screws things up. Local governments are equally adept at it. I remember one winter, when a record snowfall brought my former fair city of Lexington, Kentucky, to its knees. What did it do in response? Go out and buy enough salt to coat the entire Great Salt Lake three times over. Of course all that salt then sat unused and unneeded, in the milder, more normal winters that followed. But hey, they did something!

Governments, whether big or small, are not entirely to blame for the bungling, though. Some of the blame rests on the same professional opinion-givers whose job it is to drum up a public cry for a response, then criticize the response after it falls short or is obviously flawed. What a job. No wonder Manjoo is down in the dumps.

The trouble with most journalists, pundits and zeitgeist readers like Manjoo is that they write only from what they observe. They see people at work. Maybe they even tour factories. But they’ve never been in business, never taken any risks, and never been on the inside of a company that’s serious about innovation, that’s motivated to constantly improve and that’s excited about the future. They’re adept at looking at the world’s problems and intoning portentously that “something needs to be done,” but they don’t know what the something is, or how to do it. 

That’s what entrepreneurs are for. 

Entrepreneurs are by nature optimistic: They have to believe in the future, otherwise they’d have no motivation to want to improve it. And because they’re less bogged down by negative thoughts, they find it much easier to think creatively. That’s why they’ll be the ones to solve whatever crisis comes along.

If I had the chance to “chat live” with Manjoo, I would tell him to get out of his gloomy place and spend time with some up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Not the Silicon Valley or East Coast types he’s used to dealing with, but the ones throughout America who actually make things — who manufacture quality products that have the ability to change lives. They are where the future is, and they, not the government, are the ones who will solve the problems that keep him up at night because not only do they refuse to see the glass as half empty — they’re also persistent as hell.