Go to the fair – an American Pastime

Ferris Wheel, Evergreen State Fair

Spend lots of money, ride some rides, and have a great time.

Quick – when I say “cotton candy”, “Ferris Wheel”, and “Pig Races”, what do you think? If you’re like a lot of Americans, you think of a County or State Fair. But why should you care about such an event? It’s loud, noisy, wasteful, expensive … and wonderful.

While a county fair isn’t the perfect economic stimulus we’re waiting for (this isn’t an argument for or against such a measure, just a survey of a different way money can spread in a local economy), it’s actually a great model of the American economy working in action. State Fairs involve public-private partnerships, induce people to spend a lot of money that lands both back in the immediate community and the larger community, and by the way, they are a lot of fun. So, why do they work?

The Fair Only Comes Once A Year

Fairs are time-bound – they occur annually, and usually at a specific time of the year. This creates a lot of pent-up demand and also draws crowds. When you have crowds of people who are looking to spend money (or just to see a spectacle), you get a lot of economic activity in a short period of time.

When the fair’s done, it’s done for an entire year, so people tend to spend more money than they would otherwise. State fairs are also excellent examples of reservation pricing – or the presentation of a nearly infinite way that people can choose to spend the right amount of money for them – so you can walk into the door for a low price, stroll around and pay almost nothing more … or spend all the money in your wallet.

It’s a rippin’ good time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the fair is REALLY FUN. Whether you’re riding rides, people watching, or just strolling around to see the unusual exhibits, you are definitely going to see things you don’t see every day. And it’s a great time. 

It’s local (and national)

Whether you are talking to local 4-H kids, local vendors, or national brands, the fair is a place where your money goes many places all at once. That’s why it’s a neat fusion of hucksterism, local economy, fun, and a genuine good time.

Enjoy your local county or state fair – there’s likely one nearby – and remember, if you don’t get to go this year, there’s always next year.

See more pictures of the 2011 Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, WA here.

What’s good for General Motors is good for the country. Er. The other way round.

Charles Wilson, Official DoD Photo
Charles Wilson, Official DoD Photo

Charlie Wilson, president of General Motors, is alleged to have said during his confirmation hearings as Eisenhower’s secretary of defense in 1952: “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” On the day after General Motors declared bankruptcy, it seems to be a good time to reassess Charlie’s statement. Is a GM in bankruptcy good for the country?

General Motors arguably peaked in the years after Charlie’s leadership. Transitioning from years of supporting the country during war and peaking on a demand of newly suburbanized citizens driving out to the new suburbs on new roads (that too courtesy of Eisenhower), GM could do no wrong. But by the 1970s, it was clear that expensive gas was here to stay and that big cars could no longer survive. Or was it actually not so clear about the future of big cars? GM experienced a revival in the mid 90s by selling big trucks and then in the 2000s by being at the forefront of the SUV craze. Boom, then bust again, as this interactive graphic from the WSJ shows the most recent decline of GM sales.

GM’s now in bankruptcy. Is that where the country is heading? It turns out that Charlie actually said in his confirmation hearings, as quoted in a 1961 Time Magazine article, was “[f]or years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” If we take Charlie at his word, then this week’s bankruptcy promises an end to the binge of car buying on credit and overbuilding based on a capacity that no longer exists. The “Old GM” will take the brands and liabilities the company no longer wants, while the “New GM” will try to become a more nimble company producing cars with the body styles Americans know and love (SUVs, Trucks, Medium-Large sedans) and the powertrains that won’t starve their wallets. That’s not going to be an easy trick to pull off.

If the outcome of the “Old GM” and the “New GM” is to create a car company that builds cars Americans actually want to buy, it will be good for the country, and vice-versa. It will be even better if that company becomes an independent entity again and not just a drag on taxpayers. I hope that GM uses this opportunity to go for broke; the company doesn’t have much to lose, and so much to gain in terms of brand equity, sales, and customer loyalty. GM’s competitors aren’t going away.  They will use this opportunity to gain market share and to redouble their efforts to succeed.  Let’s hope too that the challenge of innovating with less will transform what we know about the american car business and turn it into something wholly new (that people want to buy).  That would be a story and an inspiration for the citizens and government of the United States as we seek to rebuild our brand equity and world standing.

(a Footnote of sorts: Fast Company wonders what will happen to the Volt?  I think the only certain thing is that no one knows yet.)

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