Here's the bigger picture--blandly described as "pessimism about US competitiveness."
I had a depressing conversation recently with someone in a retail business that's been successfully expanding into southern Europe and Africa. He's just about had it with trying to do business in the United States.
He was hesitant to explain why--he didn't want to be rude to me or insult me, he said. I told him not to worry, I wouldn't take it personally. Was it the regulatory environment, I asked? The tax code?
Not so much, he said. It was that Americans didn't work that hard and didn't understand business. They hadn't yet grasped that they were facing competition from people who were a lot hungrier to make money than they were.
They didn't pick up the phone promptly when he called. They didn't seem to be able to do anything quickly. They were strangely passive and resistant to new ideas. They were hopeless at coming up with good marketing strategies. "They still think that people will want to do business with them just because they're American and they exist."
They didn't seem to understand the importance of evaluating whether what they were doing made economic sense. He kept hearing, "Well, we've always done it this way," or "You don't understand, the economy is really bad right now." And he's thinking--bad economy? The people I work with where per capita GDP is $3,000 dollars a year aren't giving me that line.
I'm thinking about that and wondering what it means. I haven't spent enough time in his line of work really to be able to appraise it. He may be sensing something very real--or he may be rationalizing his failure to break into the US market.
It's considered pretty much a truism around here that America's superpower days are over. Whether that's reality or fantasy, I couldn't say, but I can say that I'd get this impression from reading American newspapers. Increasingly, it just sounds Third World.
I have a lot of experience, though, of discovering that things are not the way you'd think they'd be from reading local newspapers. So who knows.