Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who Moved My Cheese

Cover of "Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazin...Cover via Amazon

While waiting in the airport for my connecting flight back to France, I spent some time in the bookstore. On long flights, I become an obsessive reader. With 12 hours to kill, there plenty of time to dig into a good book or two or three. Sometimes, you don't even need to leave the bookstore before finishing the important parts.

Such was the case, when I picked up Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. The premise is simple. Two mice and two "little people" live in a maze. Each day the creatures go out in search of cheese. Eventually, both sets find a large store of cheese. The little people move closer to the cheese and establish a life revolving around the cheese. The mice, on the other hand, never take the cheese for granted.

One day the cheese is gone. The mice simply pick up and go out in search of more, but the people have become too attached to this place. They complain and implore the heavens to restore the cheese that had sustained them. Eventually, one of the people gathers the courage to go back out into the maze to look for more cheese. Along the way, he scribbles down some cheezy life lessons. Finally, after a period of adversity, he finds a new and more impressive store of cheese. The other person, we suspect, never does learn his lesson and wastes away his days dreaming of a life lost.

The morals are simple: do not become complacent; be proactive when change occurs; adversity provides an opportunity for growth. Basic as these principles may be, they are excellent advice for the current place and time. Many people in America had grown complacent with their lives and when the economic crisis hit home, people did not have the will to adapt. Instead, many blame outside sources, like immigrants and international competition. Many of these complaints are amplified by irresponsible media and counter-productive political messages.

Now on my second extended relocation out of the county, I feel like I've gained more of an international perspective on the economy. In order to take productive steps out of recession, I believe Americans need to understand the nature of the maze that they live in.

First, there is plenty of cheese to go around. Although there are many other people in the maze with them, they're not all adversaries. Recently I've been confounded to hear people talk so negatively about the Chinese. "Made in China" afforded middle class American access to cheap consumer products. The "cheese" of industrial jobs was not removed over night. The outsourcing of many industries was an arrangement that many were fine with, up until the market melt down. We felt that America was moving on to a more stable post-industrial economy - and so it still is.

Now is the time to embrace change. In November, a voting majority was committed to a new direction. What has happened? Now is not the time to turn our backs on green house gas pollution control. Now is not the time to delay health care reform. Like the little people in the maze, Americans are loathe to accept the very change that they ushered in (don't forget that the housing crisis is a home-grown problem). The US has the intellect and the capacity for productivity to usher in a new green industry, we just need the kick-in-the-pants that might come from cap and trade legislation.

Likewise, the US can and should reform its health care system to provide equally for all men, women and children. Is that not a moral perogitive of this country? Look internationally for effective options for reform. Health care in France and Denmark is laughably less expensive. An international insurance policy for visitors is pennies compared to a commercial US plan. It's simpler and more effective (life expectancy in France is two years longer than the US). Why is socialism a bad word? Why can't we try what works elsewhere?

The reports that I hear from the US increasingly frustrate me. I cannot even reconcile the beliefs of some friends and family. The US needs to wake up and go looking for new cheese.
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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.