On To Baseball, And (Eventually) Summer

Today the 2018 Major League Baseball season starts.  On Opening Day, fans of every team can approach the new season with optimism that this might just be the year for their team to win it all.

1cfa76df7b9fae74e7898045efb9d360Fans of the Cleveland Indians, like Russell and UJ and me, are hoping that, on this 70th anniversary of the Tribe’s last World Series title, this might be the year that the team ends a very long drought.  With the winless streak now celebrating its 70th birthday, we think it’s time for its mandatory retirement.  And after last season, where Cleveland won more than 100 games but lost to the Damn Yankees in the playoffs, Tribe fans are hoping that the team has the pieces in place to make another legitimate run for the championship banner.

But Tribe fans are not alone, of course.  The start of baseball season is great, because every baseball fan everywhere feels inward optimism about their squad, even if they won’t admit it publicly.  Lightning can and does strike.  Sometimes teams just gel, and unlikely heroes emerge, and rookie phenoms actually pan out.  Every year, it seems, there is a Cinderella story, and at the start of the season every fan hopes that their team will end up donning the glass slipper.  The sense of hopefulness and possibility is intoxicating — but also can be brief and ruined by reality.

This year, though, at least for those of us in the Midwest and East who’ve been enduring the Winter that Won’t Go Away,  there’s another reason to celebrate the arrival of baseball’s Opening Day.  If the Summer Game is finally here, we can hope that summer itself isn’t far behind.

When Entrepreneurialism Falters

A new study by the Brookings Institution suggests that there is a disturbing trend in the U.S. economy — one that involves less entrepreneurial spirit, less risk-taking, and the declining creation of new businesses.

The study looked at the rates of business creation and destruction in the U.S. from 1978 to 2011.  It shows a persistent national decline in the percentage of new businesses in the economy.  Moreover, during the 2008-2011 time period the percentage of failing businesses exceeded the number of new businesses being created for the first time.

These findings help to explain the poor employment statistics in America in recent years.  The number of people aren’t even trying to find work has grown to more than 92 million Americans, and job growth isn’t keeping pace with population growth.  A decline in entrepreneurialism would help to explain these very troubling trends.  New businesses not only create new jobs, the creation of new businesses often follows a recession, as some Americans who have lost their jobs look at their options and decide to go into business for themselves. They employ themselves, and in the process they employ others, too.  That apparently isn’t  happening as frequently now.  Why not?

The Brookings Institution study says the reasons for the decline in new business creation are “unknown.”  We can draw inferences about the causes, however, by looking at the common characteristics of entrepreneurs.  They tend to be dreamers and risk-takers.  They are willing to work hard and to put their own money into their new ventures.  They believe in themselves, in their products and services, and in their ability to succeed in our capitalist economy.  Scratch an entrepreneur, and you’ll likely find an optimist.

From this armchair analysis, I’d speculate that the decline in new business creation means that fewer people are optimistic about the future, or that fewer people have confidence in themselves and their ability to succeed on their own, or that more people are comfortable with their current circumstances and are more interested in holding on to what they’ve already got than in risking it on a new business that will involve hard work and potential failure — or a combination of those factors.  If any of these potential causes turns out to be the truth, it doesn’t paint an encouraging picture of our future.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: Optimism Amidst The Great Depression

1939 was not a great year.  The Great Depression had lingered for 10 years, with no end in sight.  In Europe, the growth of Nazi Germany and then the invasion of Poland brought on World War II.  Aggressive totalitarian regimes were found across the globe.  You would not have blamed someone of that time for feeling deeply pessimistic about the course of human history.

And yet, there were optimists, even in 1939 — and I think Grandpa Neal was one of them.  His bookshelf included a small book called Thought Starters published in 1939 by the Imperial Electric Company of Akron, Ohio.  It has an unabashed motivational message, with chapters with titles like “Success Road is Wide Open,” “The Will to Win,” “The Go-Getter’s Way,” and “Ideas Are Worth More Than Cash.”  The book’s theme is that an optimistic approach, where opportunities are recognized and pursued, will lead to success.  The hopeful bullishness of the book is captured in this passage from the “Opportunities Galore!” chapter:  “You are living in a wonderful age.  Just think!  The greatest developments in the world have occurred during the past century.  And the years ahead will make current progress look like child’s play!”

Grandpa’s copy of Thought Starters is personally signed by John Hearty, the president of the Imperial Electric Company. I found myself wondering what happened to the positive-thinking Mr. Hearty and his company.  It turns out that the Imperial Electric Company survived the Great Depression and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Mr. Hearty turned the company over to his son, who ran it until it was sold in 1983.  No doubt the optimistic, opportunity-driven attitude reflected in Thought Starters helped the company to be successful.

If people in 1939 could be optimistic about the future, we should be able to muster some optimism now.  Rather than wringing our hands about our current predicament, our country and our leaders be well served by adopting some of the can-do, positive attitude reflected in this little book.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Grandma’s Book of Sayings

Looking On The Bright Side

Today’s announcement of the latest unemployment figures was bad news all around — only 18,000 jobs created, the unemployment rate up to 9.2%, more than 270,000 out-of-work Americans who have just stopped looking for a job, and growing fears that our lingering recission is going to get worse before it gets better.  One economist quoted in the linked article said it was “an employment report with no redeeming features whatsoever.”

My grandmother told me, however, that I should always look on the bright side.  I’ve tried to do that about the current sad state of the American economy, and have come up with the following possible silver linings:

*  We’re kicking Greece’s ass!

*  “Quantative easing” would be a good phrase to use in a laxative commercial.

*  When you think about it, owning your own home really is kind of a hassle, anyway.

*  Look, a squirrel!

If those don’t do the trick, how about the classic song of unbridled optimism from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: