Brexit, Crisis and Opportunity

One of the more amusing moments I’ve had here at UTC has been the visit of the new Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Daniel Pack, to the SimCentre, where I just finished my PhD.  He wanted to meet with the students; it’s been a rough road for the program, and he wanted to “cast a vision” for the future.  Towards the end of his talk, he threw out the old B-school meme that, in Chinese, the character for “opportunity” is contained in the character for “crisis.”

However, as is the case with most gatherings of engineering students (and faculty) these days, the Chinese are well represented.  Once he said that he paused in puzzlement for a second, looked at the Chinese and asked, “Is that really true?”  The Chinese, after looking at each other, confirmed that it was true.  Needless to say, the Dean sighed with relief.

There aren’t many sighs of relief after the “Brexit” vote, at least from what one reads in the various news sources.  You’d think that the UK had voted to withdraw from the planet entirely.  The pound tanks (pack your bags, tourists) and the whining begins.  International commerce is rumoured at a standstill.  Suddenly well-positioned people want to move somewhere else, although it’s hard to know where.

I think it’s time to settle down and consider two realities.

The first, as I pointed out earlier, is that the European Union is an “undemocratic, Procrustean experiment” that has lurched from one disaster to another in the last eight years.  Successful unification of a group of nations as diverse as those in the EU requires some wisdom and flexibility, and the eurocrats have exhibited neither.  They’ve taken a “my way or the highway” attitude, and the UK has taken the highway.

The second is that the flow of international commerce isn’t as dependent upon the existence of international bureaucracies as people think it is.  I’ll even make a bolder statement than that: the improvements in communications and transport (mitigated, in the country, by our purposeful neglect of infrastructure upkeep) make those bureaucracies even more unnecessary than they make themselves.  We need some comity in the process, but there’s a point where necessary comity turns into unnecessary overhead, and I think we’re past that.

I keep being drawn back to my experience in China, in which I learned the following:

One of the lessons we at Vulcan took from China is that “experts” seem to gravitate towards the country. We found these experts in the U.S., too. They’d appear at international trade events, going on at length about how to deal with this exotic Chinese culture and how different it was from ours, and how with their advice we would do business.

The problem with many of these people is that they’ve never “done the deal.” Many of them have never sold or leased anything to the Chinese or anyone else for that matter. We found that such advice not to be as helpful as it looked.

I think we’ve got a tyranny of people who have never “done the deal,” and worse aren’t enthusiastic about any one else doing it either.  That’s certainly relevant now that attention turns back to our own elections.  (For those who whine about Trump being a Chapter 11 artist, make no mistake: we are heading towards our own bankruptcy, and there’s nothing to stop it, it can only be managed.)

And something else: why is it that we think that people can only succeed if they move to our shores?  Isn’t anyone interested in seeing some success elsewhere?  I know I certainly am, and have worked to make it happen, but I feel like I’m in the minority.  Such efforts would mitigate the need for immigration, which has been so explosive on both sides of the Atlantic.

As our Dean noted, opportunity is contained within crisis.  Events like this make our elites feel like David “Spengler” Goldman’s pithy saying: it’s not the end of the world, it’s the end of you.  Don’t let yourself get sucked into the whining, there are opportunities out there for all of us.

One Reply to “Brexit, Crisis and Opportunity”

  1. I’ve manufactured in Taiwan for the Japanese market. And found them perfectly straightforward. They wanted my bank references, got them, and then discussed specs.

    We were making unicycles and bicycles, and barely got out with out shirts. Taiwan was hampered by its protection of its steel industry. This may have been OK from a wider perspective; “infant markets” is a difficult topic, and I have no clear position either way. Obviously free trade is the long term aim, but that’s a ver-ree different question.

    The result was that all the advanced parts were Japanese being shipped back to Japan, while the steel for frames was low-tensile strength, hence non-competitive. We sold a bit over two containers, and by container two the major Japanese maker had copied our innovation (modern touring styles) so we cut and ran.

    But I agree strongly with your points and your sensible Dean’s above, Don: there’s a lot of loud, stupid, bogus expertise out there — much of it in books that have been selling decade after decade back to WWII.

    Cheers,
    -dlj.

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