“Too many kooks spoil the broth” was the name of an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a TV show that ran for several seasons in the early ‘60s. The episode centered on a calculating cousin and a newfangled “Quickee Cooker,” but the title could just as well describe the European Union’s efforts at vaccinating its citizenry for COVID-19. It has dickered over price and dithered when it needed to be decisive. It seems the best thing to come from all their bureaucratic bungling is a business lesson in how not to proceed.
Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian
Who could have dreamed back when Britain first voted to leave the European Union that we’d be where we are now, with the Brits far outpacing the boys and girls of Brussels in their vaccine rollout against a global pandemic. At the time, the Brexit vote was viewed by many English elites, like those at the Financial Times and The Economist, as on par with the dropping of the atomic bomb: the United Kingdom was doomed! “Why is it so dangerous?” mused one Donald Tusk, then-president of the European Council, “because no one can foresee what the long-term consequences can be.” Spoken like a true top-form bureaucrat.
I was in favor of Brexit, because I generally believe that breaking away from that ponderous 46,000 pencil pushers-strong, thick-as-fromage bureaucracy to go it alone is the way to go. It worked for the American colonies, and it worked for me, even though when I left my job in reinsurance to launch a business, I was told I was making a huge mistake. There I was leaving a secure income and an air-conditioned office! What more could a person possibly want?
The fact is, unless you’re judging pigs or pumpkins at the state fair, or entering a ball of twine into The Guinness Book of World Records, bigger is almost never better. Nowhere is that more true than in a business. I learned that lesson at the fan company, when the “Great Recession” put the big pause on sales. Because I was adamant about not laying people off, we launched a new installation division which helped us stay afloat until the financial crisis eased. We were able to pivot within a matter of weeks, because there were only around 130 of us. Imagine GE or GM attempting that same maneuver. It would have taken them years of memos and market testing.
The bigger an organization or company, the more lumbering it is. One of the most interesting outcomes of the pandemic might just be that it reveals the European Union for what it really is: a collection of 27 member states in search of a single authority — and united at this point only by a common incompetence. The fine folks in charge even admitted they weren’t up to the task of procuring vaccines. “We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production and perhaps too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Two heads may often — no, make that sometimes — be better than one, but each additional head — be it board member, manager, or that lovely, all-purpose term “stakeholder” — only serves to complicate matters, because each person comes to the table with their own agenda. The EU’s vaccine woes are a direct consequence of there being too many agendas.
You know, I thought that “Too Many Kooks Spoil the Broth” was a good description of the EU mess. But maybe an episode of another TV show that also ran in the early ‘60s would be more accurate: The Twilight Zone’s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” Rod Serling’s opening narration describes “Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness.”
“No logic. No reason. No explanation. Just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. We will not end the nightmare. We will only explain it, because this” … is the European Union.