“Keep it simple.” That was the philosophy pounded into me by my first commanding officer - a man who could take on any problem, boil it down to its essence, and then show us how to tackle it in a way that became glaringly obvious once we’d gotten rid of the smoke and mirrors surrounding it.
That man was one of the reasons I made a career of going to sea. He showed me the inherent simplicity involved in the job and just how enjoyable it could be.
He believed that even the most difficult trip could be boiled down to the following:
Here’s your ship. There’s the ocean. This is the mission. Go do it.
Don’t want to run aground? Be sure charted soundings are always larger than the draft marks on your hull.
Don’t want to turn piers into kindling? Go slow when you make your approach. Can’t hit them hard if you’re not going fast.
Want to keep personnel problems to a minimum? Let the crew know where we’re going (it keeps rumors from gaining traction), when we’re going to get there, and what we’re going to do when we do.
Funny thing happens then. Once they know you’re being open and honest with them, it buys you a bucket load of trust. And once they trust you, they’ll literally follow you to the ends of the earth. Note: You learned that here. Should be in every management textbook and government manual in a few years, then I can retire on the proceeds.
Allow me another nautical analogy.
Every sound ship ever built has one very simple thing in common with every other well-built ship. They have strong keels and those keels were built according to some simple and well-proven rules.
Mess with those rules, weaken them, or tamper with the integrity of the keel, and it’s no longer what it was meant to be.
Which means that even though the ship may look good and ride nicely and everyone is nodding in all of the right places and saying just how strong everything is, you’d better develop the habit of sleeping with your life jacket.
Where I’m going with all of this is that, just now, we’re in some pretty dire straits financially.
Too many of the charlatans, quacks, mountebanks, fools and crooks that we have in government and finance decided to mess with the “keel” of our financial system and they did so knowingly.
If you’re into “fixing the blame,” you’re in what’s known as a target rich environment. Toss a dart in the general direction of D.C., Wall Street, or many major banking firms and it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll hit paydirt no matter where it lands or whom it hits.
How we got here - with their help - can be summed up somewhat as follows.
As a nation, we spent more than we made. We borrowed more than we could repay. We loaned more than we could afford to those we knew couldn’t repay. We threw out everything we knew to be right. We weakened the keel and ended up face to face with the Third Law of The Salt Mines which states that “There’s always going to be a reckoning, stud.”
Getting out of this mess is going to be somewhere so far on the other side of tough that it’ll take the light from tough a week to get there but, as my former commanding officer might have said, the remedy comes down to some fairly simple ideas.
Look at how much we (as a nation) take in and, then, spend less. Pay down debt. Lend only to those who can repay. Cut the frivolous and useless programs. Get the regulators and overseers back to regulating and overseeing. Keep an eye on those in charge. Call them out if they start playing games and very publicly vote them out of office or ship them off to jail when they do.
It’d be nice if our betters actually tried any of the above for the next few years. Who knows, by so doing, they might even begin to regain our trust.
The thing is, sticking to the basics - doing the simple stuff - requires honesty, courage, and determination.
However, one worries that, just now, those qualities are in very short supply where they’re needed most.