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Welcome to the Idiot Economy.

Even as Nobel-prize-winning economists struggle to name the greatest economic boom in history -- The New Economy? The Digital Revolution? The Greenspan Effect? -- a friend has come up with an interesting moniker for today's full-employment environment: The Idiot Economy. Why such a disdainful title for the biggest stock run-up in history? "Because times are so good right now that it seems any idiot can get a job -- maybe two," he says. "And when any idiot can get a job, some of them probably will." Yet, because they're idiots, this wag explains, companies don't put them in positions of real authority. They keep them at entry-level jobs, where instead of annoying fellow employees with their incompetence, bad attitudes, and inattention to detail, they merely harass and disappoint those outside the company -- people like customers and suppliers and shareholders. As a painting contractor confessed to another friend recently: "Things are so tight in this job market, the people I have to hire right now, I wouldn't let them paint my house." Of course, my friend adds, most people don't set out to be idiots. In fact, most begin by caring about what they do and trying to do good work, if only so they can keep their jobs. But in a full-employment economy, it's not just the idiots who are busy. The people who manage the idiots -- and, in turn, their leaders, and so on -- are busy, too, trying to grab every last dollar in these gold-rush days. These managers are so busy squeezing every last dollar out of their customers by ordering more and more idiots to pester them -- think dinner-time telemarketing -- that they begin to cancel non-customer-squeezing budget items. Things like training and strategic-planning sessions and even basic internal communications; i.e., newsletters, meetings with management, etc. Unfortunately, these budget items are just the sorts of things that idiots need to keep from being idiots to customers in the first place. Even worse, once idiocy toward customers is accepted as a cost of business -- We can't afford to train, or We're too busy to shut down for a planning session, or Those idiots won't read a newsletter anyway -- it usually spreads through an organization like wildfire. Eventually even the managers turn out to be idiots. Of course, the beautiful thing about the Idiot Economy is that none of this matters. Times are good, and your customers have nowhere else to go, so why not subject them to your untrained, unfocused, ill-informed idiots? Because even when the Idiot Economy goes south (and economies always do, no matter what else you've heard), you can just get rid of the idiots. All that will remain is the memory of their idiotic performances -- maybe not among your employees, but certainly among your customers. But, hey, your customers won't leave just because times change and suddenly there's more competition, right? After all, what are they? Idiots? John Brandt is Editor-In-Chief and Associate Publisher of IndustryWeek.

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