Editor’s note: The state of the U.S. economy is on everyone’s mind, and QP readers are no exception. Many wrote to us regarding the U.S. government’s attempts to right the ship and offered their own ideas for how to keep the economy afloat. A few of those letters are reprinted here, and if you have more to add, write to us at editor@asq.org.

Logical solutions

Rather than making a list of reasons for or against the U.S. stimulus package—now passed and signed into law—time might be better spent on addressing the main issue: What should be done by the federal government regarding the economy?

Is a logical problem-solving process relevant to this main issue somehow? I think it should be discussed. The logic of a problem-solving process, as we in ASQ so often advocate, would at least point out opportunities and pitfalls.

The answer to the question is related to many others our companies face today:

  • Should we expand? If so, how can we grow our company?
  • Should we expand our offerings of products and services?
  • Should we acquire another company to expand?
  • Should we go global to reach new markets?

How a company approaches these questions is rooted in the context of company history, company culture, company ethics and values, internal resources, external constraints and many other factors. Some firms are successful, while others are not.

Federal stimulus packages have been tried before, and they have a poor track record. The money for stimulus packages must be taxed out of the economy, borrowed from future taxpayers through government bonds or paid back with inflated dollars caused by expansion of the money supply. All are poor choices. The academic basis for stimulus packages from the federal government is based on Keynesian economics, which is problematic.

Any discussion of potential approaches should ask: What has been tried before in similar circumstances, what has worked before and what has failed before?

There lies the rub. Apparently, the current thinking in Washington, D.C. is that history is irrelevant, this is a new era, and new approaches must be tried without an examination of the lessons of the past. So, the idea of the application of logic to problem solving is, at the moment, politically unfashionable.

Without the application of logic, we are in an environment of experimentation. Unfortunately, history has shown that ill-conceived experiments within a large economy have negative consequences.

Larry G. DeVries
ASQ senior member
Eden Prairie, MN

Spending spree

Although I have been a quality technician for more than three years now, my bachelor’s degree is in economics. I have followed President Obama’s proposed plan, and I have not been very impressed with it.

When you increase government spending (which the economy doesn’t need right now), someone has to pay for it. In this case, the U.S. Treasury Department can make more money to cover the costs, yet in time the dollar will deflate in value with all this new currency floating around. Plus, I’m sure taxpayers will have to spring for most of this bill, and it does not take a quality assurance tech to realize that raising people’s taxes in times like this is not the smartest idea.

The simplest way to get out of this hole is for the U.S. government to decrease government spending and to lower taxes so people can keep more of their money. In the short term, some areas of the economy may not get the money they need, but in time the overall economy will get better.

It has been argued that if President Roosevelt had not offered his own stimulus plan when he did, the Great Depression would not have lasted as long. It makes you think the government should apply some basic quality process control to its decisions.

The best we can do to get out of this mess is to keep our heads up and work hard. In the end, the health of the economy traces its source to the home. This may hurt for a while, but this situation is nothing the United States has not seen before. It’s time to suck it up and sacrifice a little bit.

J.D. Horton
Quality technician, GAF
Mt. Vernon, IN

Find the cause

Regarding the stimulus plan, to use quality vernacular, it is only a containment action. Until the root causes of what is clearly a systemic failure are remedied, I question the sustainability of any recovery.

If you think of three well-known entities—AIG, Chrysler and Bank of America—as products (outputs) of the economic system, then you have evidence of three very different—albeit related—products serving different markets or different industries. Yet all are in a failed state.

What does this mean? When products that are outputs of different processes fail, often the causes are systemic in origin. There is ample evidence of a system breakdown in this case, and until the root causes are corrected, countermeasures such as a stimulus plan will be suboptimal at best and will fail outright at worst.

Congress and the Obama administration would be well served to perform some old-fashioned root cause analysis (RCA) and build plans based on those findings. I suspect if they did, they would realize there are ways to broker deals between ailing entities and stronger firms. That way, critical services could continue through the stronger firm, while at the same time the operations of the mismanaged companies could gradually come to an end. This would create a softer landing than just letting them die on the vine and would also leave the companies in the hands of the private sector.

But getting to that point is going to take a lot of intensive RCA, corrective action plans and project management—the likes of which have rarely been seen.

The company I work for—Mid Continent Controls—is a supplier of electrical distribution and controls and cabin management systems for general aviation companies. The stimulus plan will have little bearing on our future. What is more damaging is the characterization of private aviation as a symbol of excess.

General aviation provides good wages and is one of the few remaining industries with a strong U.S. manufacturing base. Admittedly, my opinion is biased, but this industry is an asset, not a liability. Unless we want the same thing to happen to aviation that is currently happening to the automobile industry, it would seem to me that building it up, fostering growth and encouraging innovation would be in everybody’s best interest over the long term.

Mike Alumbaugh
Director of operations
Mid Continent Controls
Derby, KS

Ideological differences

The stimulus plan is not a stimulus. It is pork (8,000 earmarks) and payoffs to Obama’s contributors and supporters. It is designed to enlarge government and convert our republic to socialism as fast as possible.

The change we got in Washington is ruining this country, and all of my clients are feeling the impact. Many have already laid off at least 20% of their workforce. With Obama’s attack against free enterprise, ASQ as an industry group could—and should—make its mark by vocalizing and mobilizing against this attack. We could take a positive, proactive position for free enterprise.

We, as quality-systems experts, understand data, root cause, cause and effect, and corrective and preventive action. We should expose the lack of knowledge of these principles in Washington, D.C.

Debra Mervyn
D.A. Mervyn and Associates
Portland, OR

Quick fix

I am disappointed in the U.S. government’s approach to the problem. In all the rhetoric and saber rattling, I have seen little evidence of the government using a sound problem-solving approach. What I have seen is the deployment of quick-win plans to fix the results rather than attack the problem.

It is not clear that our government bothered to define the problems, determine true root cause and develop a plan of corrective action with calculated confidence levels of success. As a result of the government’s current approach, I fear the stimulus plan will provide short-term relief to current economic woes but will fall short when it comes to creating a robust, growing economy.

Paul S. Hopmeier
Charlotte, NC

Money wasted

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contains expenditures for quality and reliability. Here’s what I found, and here’s how I think the money will be squandered:

  • $700 million for comparative effectiveness, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. This might be spent on clinical trials and statistics. Is ASQ connected to this NIH agency? NIH has problems with data quality.
  • $2 billion for quality of infant and toddler care. Quality of babysitting could be a new field for ASQ.
  • $1 billion for health and wellness programs, Centers for Disease Control. Quality of life is a medical-ethical consideration, especially if universal healthcare costs start threatening entitlements like kidney dialysis. Scary.
  • $4.5 billion for electricity delivery and energy reliability, Department of Energy Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability. Reliability engineers need to get smarter to deal with network reliability for multivariate loss-of-load probability models.

These were found by searching the legislation for the words "quality" and "reliability." There may be expenditures listed under other quality buzzwords.

Larry George
Bedford, TX

Stock response

I don’t think it is a stimulus at all. It’s primarily a pork bill of political payoffs. In my opinion, it will do much more harm than good. All you need to do is look at Wall Street’s reaction to it. They obviously see it as making matters much worse, as the stock market continues to plummet.

Harlan Stillions
Cordova, TN

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