I hear a lot of calls to “put the nation on a war footing” to battle COVID-19. There’s a lot to unpack in a statement like that. Going on a “war footing” has implications beyond what people seem to think it means.
A few nights ago I heard one of the endless number of network talking heads claim that during World War II, Ford Motor Company was making a new 4-engine bomber every 63 minutes. That statement is absolutely true… but only if you’re looking at a range of dates from 1944 or ’45.
The B-24 Liberators built by Ford would darken the skies over Europe and the Pacific by the end of the war… but when America entered the war in 1941, exactly none of those planes had been built. Ford didn’t start building the plant (Willow Run) to build those bombers until about 1940. The plant wasn’t finished until 1942. In ’42 and ’43 production suffered from a combination of issues ranging from supply shortages, product quality, labor/management disputes, and the sheer learning curve of translating automobile production into building aircraft. What worked for building cars didn’t always translate directly into building airplanes.
Because of these challenges, Ford didn’t meet their legendary “bomber an hour” goal until 1944 – three years after America went to war and four years after they began construction on Willow Run, and only a year before the war ended.
All I’m saying is try to bear reality in mind when you hear someone say “just tell a company to ‘start making’ Product X,” whatever the product happens to be. It took Ford two years to get there even when they had the plant and equipment in place. There’s a lead time from demand signal to production. Companies that build respirators likely aren’t sitting on a lot of spare plant capacity “just in case” a once-in-a-century pandemic breaks out. New plant and new producers can be brought online, but it takes time and a massive infusion of capital… and the faster you want it, the more it’s going to cost. There’s no way around it.
If you’re saying you want the US economy to focus on kitting out the supplies and equipment needed to respond to COVID-19 to the exclusion of almost all other consumer goods, we can do that. We’ve done it before… but putting us collectively on a “war footing” has long lasting consequences and second or third order effects that absolutely no one has even started to consider.
1. Responsibility. As a grown ass adult, you have certain responsibilities. One of those is to be where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be there. That goes double if you’re going to try passing yourself off as a professional. Yep, sometimes that means you’re going to have to play hurt, or when you have other things on your mind. It’s the way of the world, so suck it up, buttercup. When you’re the only one impacted by your piss poor decision making skills, I say do what you want and God bless… but when your decision make someone else deal with the consequences, you’re pretty much just as asshat.
2. Rolling Stone. From the perspective of having any tact or class as an organization, Rolling Stone has basically let the world know for sure that they have none. Look, if they want to run a magazine with the Boston bomber on the cover, they’re perfectly within their rights. All I’d ask is that don’t hide behind the cover of being responsible journalists tackling a hard story head on. If they came out and admitted they put that douchenozzle on the cover because they thought they were going to sell a gagillion copies of it, I’d say thanks for the truth and God bless. They’d be right and it would collectively be our fault because we Americans will buy up those magazines by the bushel basket. The only reason that smug bastard is looking out at us from the newsstand is because we’ll eat it up and pay for the privilege. Rolling Stone knows that… and we live through another example of the citizens of this fine country not having the common sense God gave a goose.
3. Standing by to stand by. I think by now we all know how I feel about meetings in general. In a decade’s worth of work, I’ve attended less than a handful that left me feeling like they were time well spent. That’s situation normal in the bureaucracy. What really grinds my gears, though is the mentality that the average drone has nothing better to do than sit around and wait for the next meeting to start. Don’t schedule something at 11:00, then slip it to 11:30, then pass the word to wait and see, and to be prepared to stand by to stand by until further notice. In a world of 32 hour work weeks and 80% pay, the least we can expect is that the limited time we do have on the clock is respected and used productively. Or maybe that’s a bridge too far.