Sitting in a swamp of uncertainty

BUSINESS seems to be pretty good for most of the commercial truck and trailer industry right now, much better than our expectations for the future would indicate.

A number of variables have created a disconnect between what is (business is generally good) and what is to come (we aren't sure). But for months now, television, newspapers, and internet news sites have put one uncertainty front and center: the election. Each day, we are left wondering: “Who will win, and what will happen to my company when they do?”

Commercial truck businesses, like many companies today, seem to be in a holding pattern, hesitating to hire new employees, reluctant to commit to new projects, or otherwise spend a discretionary penny until the election has been decided.

On one level, the worry is justified. No one has to tell you that Washington has the power to turn this industry upside down. On another level, though, we question to what extent a president — any president — can positively impact the overall economy. If revving up the national economic engine were really that simple, wouldn't we all be wealthy and failing to pay our fair share by now?

In our view, national prosperity is much more dependent on national confidence than on national policy. In the mid-1970s, a U S News and World Report article predicted great things for the U S economy 20 years into the future. Why would the economy boom in the 90s? Simple demographics. Baby Boomers, the group that had been profoundly impacting the economy since being born en masse shortly after World War II, were beginning to enter the workforce. The economy would boom in 20 years, the article predicted, as these young adults reached their prime earning years. There's nothing like a pay raise to get us to open our check books.

Of course, other unforeseen factors also helped bring about that prosperity and a national confidence. Innovations in computer technology, CNC machine tools, growth of the internet, and the emergence of lean manufacturing principles all contributed to the productivity and prosperity gains. Nevertheless, rather than giving a tip of the hat to Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, Republican and Democrats both have claimed it was their political policies that made America boom back then.

It has been difficult to be optimistic about the future after watching two weeks of political conventions. Both parties spent their conventions decrying the partisan rancor of politics today. After getting that little bit of business out of the way, speakers then proceeded to excoriate the other side. Given the nearly 50-50 split in America today, there's a pretty good chance that this horrible individual of whom they spoke will be elected. If that happens, our children will then starve, the elderly will be euthanized, and our water will be poisoned. America is no place for the naïve right now.

Politicians may recognize that criticizing their opponent is just part of the game, but the electorate is having a tougher time making that distinction. For far too long, the American public has been sliced and diced along racial lines, gender distinctions, matters of faith, matters of money, and whether or not we own a gun.

A united United States may be good for America, but it's much easier for a politician to win office by exploiting our differences and promising great things for “our” side. We wonder if John Kennedy could get elected today by telling us, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

After listening to two weeks of convention speeches, we know what we knew before the conventions began — the country faces huge challenges. We also know what politicians lack the nerve to tell us: overcoming these challenges is going to cause pain for everyone, including the candidate's political base.

Fortunately, the creativity and hard work of the private sector is alive and well. The White House, Congress, and the Fed have all been struggling to turn the economy around. By contrast, the chief economist of J P Morgan Chase recently estimated that if Apple sells eight million new I-Phones as expected, the result could bump up economic growth during the fourth quarter by as much as a half percentage point. Can you do that, Ben Bernanke?

Our industry helps deliver what the economy produces. Your customers and their customers will continue to seek ways to transport products to their destination as efficiently as possible. They will demand safer, more economical, and harder working work trucks. You and others like you will continue to build equipment to make that possible. You will play a role in America's future economic success. It will be okay to feel good about that. Just don't be surprised when some politician tries to take credit for it.

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