Thursday, May 06, 2010

This history of my world - Part I

by Doug Bauman

When I first started working at Westinghouse R&D, several interesting things happened.

One, I found about about unions, which I had never heard of before. I was a green college grad from CMU and I was working in an interesting department full of interesting individuals, technicians and engineers. One day my manager, Andy Szabo comes to me and asks if I've been soldering a circuit board. I said 'Of course', gleefully, thinking I was about to get an 'attaboy' from my manager for going above and beyond the call of duty to get my project working ahead of schedule. I told him that it needed a few tweaks, a few changes I made to the design. I asked the technician several times if he could make the changes, and he said that he was too busy on another project and it might not be for a while. So I asked him if I could borrow his soldering iron to make the changes myself to which he replied yes.

Instead of an 'attaboy', little was I prepared for what happened next. I did not know that there was some sort of union rule that only technicians could solder. So my manager informed me that I had made the dreaded mistake and that the union reported to him that a 'grievance' had been filed against me. I didn't know what that was, but basically it was like a first strike.  The bottom line was that I didn't solder any more. Productivity: well that had to suffer because of this union rule, and I became much more aware of the silly notions that exist in the world of corporate America filled with unions. I was instantly soured by the experience, and to this day, even though I had a high opinion of the individual technician involved, I found out it was his union supervisor that saw me and forced the individual to make the grievance against his will (especially after he had told me I could do it), and now I have a less than nominal opinion of individuals who are members of unions, even if they are forced to join. I absolutely loathe the union leadership: I perceive them as a bunch of thugs out to push their own self interest. Common sense: thou art stabbed in the back by collectivist group-think.

A similar incident happened around that time with moving items: thou shalt not move items, that's what the union movers are for, even if that means wait for up to a week to get a box or something big moved. Why they didn't tell the new engineers of these rules was beyond my understanding. So the joke amongst the engineers was: Don't solder or move anything unless it is after normal working hours.... that being a joke because no union member would ever be there after working hours because they bolt out the doors exactly at the prescribed hour of quitting, whereas the engineers worked more flex-type hours, sometimes staying late just to solve a complex problem. After a few years at Westinghouse, I was no longer 'green' in the sense of a newbie.

Another interesting thing happened as well..

In 1982, after a few years working at Westinghouse, a friend there, who was originally from Romania, and I took a trip to Europe, and that trip also took us into Romania where his family still resides. On that trip I learned from some of his college buddies that Communism, according to them, stifles all incentive to work. Most of the people either live an meager agrarian lifestyle in huts in the countryside, or live in tiny run down apartment buildings near or in the cities. Thus most people are very poor, and having little incentive, do not strive to do better. The government decides what you get, where you live, and doles out accordingly. Harder work does not translate into more stuff.

Those people all yearned to be in a capitalist country like the U.S.A (as did my friend) because there is the capitalist incentive to do better and to be rewarded with money as a way to make your life better. They knew that it was a win-win situation where everyone does better, in every walk of life. Even the poorest individuals in America do better and have more than the rank and file in poor countries, and in a country like Romania at the time, under the brutal Communist Regime of Ceauşescu, there was much poverty. Only the political elites would have a higher than normal lifestyle. They had no freedoms of any kind. Except the freedom to be subservient to government, or else. Seven years later the people rightfully revolted and Ceauşescu was killed in the streets. To me, that was very consequential in shining the light on which system works better: Capitalism or Socialism/Communism. Common sense shows that incentive is the only mechanism to make everyone do better and live better. I pretty much already knew this based on my learnings, but this was a practical lesson in the real world - I could actually see the poverty and deprivation in that other system. 

 We traveled through Hungary on our way there. Hungary has been a socialistic country for some time, although they too suffered under communism. From outward appearances, it didn't seem so bad, but I didn't see any signs of wealth, and there were way more apartment buildings than there are in the USA. What about houses? Not as many.

There were other interesting items as well. I became one of first people there not to contribute to a socialist/union associated fund that Westinghouse encouraged (almost demanded) that each of their employees contribute to. My manager, Szabo, originally from Hungary, indicated that he thought I ought to contribute, and I refused. Several others bolted as well, after I had refused. Nothing happened to me, contrary to the doom and gloom I heard from my fellow workers. A year or two later, there were media reports of massive upper management fraud in the program, and it soon went bust. Indeed it was another thinly veiled socialist program that I would not be a part of.

Lessons learned, in a good way. Socialism only works if everyone is content to be in a lesser situation, and are able to eek by without incentive to do better. It is the system of the least common denominator. Taken to extremes, I saw the adverse effects of Communism, which is only a stone's throw away from complete State-mandated Socialism. I'd argue that today in America we are in the midst of State mandated Socialism, yet not to the degree of Europe, but moving in that direction. It's not too late to reverse course.

Fast forward to today, and my 14 year old daughter tells me that in social studies they are now studying the 1980s and 1990s. In the review of the Republican Congress under Bill Clinton, she said that she and everyone else in the class noticed that the textbook seems to always favor the 'liberals'. Maybe because the textbook was written by liberals. I smiled.

Now I feel like watching the movie: "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" the scene where King Arthur with his coconuts, instead of horses, arrives at a commune, and one of the peasants has a greater vocabulary than Kin Arthur himself - deriding all forms of government but communism, especially chiding the 'proletariat'. One of my favorite scenes of all time - I'm rolling on the floor laughing.

Now I'm back to my reading - latest bulletin: The Obama Administration (department of labor and treasury) wants to seize our 401K accounts and replace them with government bonds/accounts - yeah right, like that's a good idea - NOT! Elections have consequences - vote wisely in November 2010


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