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You’re Killin’ Me, Smalls – Part 1

Just a week into my additional responsibilities as the quality control (QC) supervisor of the manufacturing plant where I was the process engineer, I began to get annoyed with the daily barrage of problems brought to me from every direction. That’s not a healthy mental attitude for a QC supervisor. In fact, it’s counter-productive if not destructive. What was a young engineer to do?

I decided on a short-term approach that I thought should reduce the daily barrage as well as exasperation, and a long-term approach to fix what I saw as a systemic flaw that contributed to the problems. I share the short-term approach here and the long-term approach in the next blog post.

The short-term approach was easy to implement and enforce. After getting the approval of the plant manager, to whom all of us supervisors reported, at the next weekly supervisors’ meeting I laid out a new QC reporting policy. I wouldn’t accept any QC complaint from one department about another department unless both department supervisors came to me with the complaint AND at least one solution.

Photo Credit: Ziok-cloths @

As I had hoped, this policy quickly forced a number of downstream improvements. Those improvements included the supervisors working together to resolve a problem and engage their own people in solving the problem – people who were typically aware of the problem and had good solutions already in mind but were usually silent because they felt they weren’t being heard. That single move – that recognition and policy change – drastically reduced the daily barrage to just a trickle of the more difficult problems, which I and my team could then focus on and resolve.

That early object lesson in QC problem solving roared back to my memory when Aaron and I were writing Better Capitalism, and he suggested we offer at least a couple of example solutions to each topic we address in Part 3: Putting Partnership into Practice – Re-Living Economics. When he made that suggestion the only real response I could offer was, “Yes, of course!”

It’s not effective to simply complain about capitalism in the abstract, like one department supervisor complaining about the quality of work in another department. But it is credible and effective to critique by pointing to a specific defect in a system and then providing reasonable solutions for improvement. Better yet if you can help implement the improvements. In writing Better Capitalism and co-founding we take and will work hard to stay with that latter approach.

For example, in Part 3 we briefly critique the cost of higher education and the issue of student debt. At the end of that topic, like in all the topics of Part 3, there is the closing section titled Partnership in Practice where we offer specific and doable steps for improvement. Here’s what that looks like for the higher ed topic titled Educational Companies (p. 161):

Partnership in Practice:

  • Increase the availability of income sharing agreements as one option for student financing.

  • Price student loans based on their expected risk and return, for the benefit of the students and the lenders (most often American taxpayers, given the extensive use of federally-backed student loans).

  • Students: don’t take on a loan—an expense—that traps you in debt (plus interest) for an educational venture that will not generate enough additional income to offset that interest-increased expense.

  • Students: do the math before committing to the degree program.

We encourage you to give this perspective some thought and then, with each (probably accurate) problem you have with capitalism, think of a doable improvement you can make to remedy that problem.


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