The biggest question facing us in the tradeshow industry is: “When will the economy rebound and return to the prosperous levels we saw in the past?” We’d all like to return to the affluence we saw in America’s greatest years, in the 50s and 70s, when we were the unquestioned leader and the envy of the entire world. It was the type of affluence Americans have been conditioned to expect growing up because after all, this is America, the greatest nation on earth. Right?
I hear a lot of people say this, but perhaps they should consider the possibility that the economy is right where it should be. There is no doubt the U.S. economy is at lower levels than in the past. But maybe, just maybe, the affluence that we saw between 1950 and 1970 was an anomaly.
The problems we face now are the result of us attempting to maintain a collective expectation of a lifestyle that we didn’t really deserve in the first place. For example, if you eat an orange, you would describe the taste as sweet. But if you eat a bowl of ice cream first and then eat the orange, it would seem sour.
Let me add a little historical perspective. Our greatest time as a nation was in the 50s and 60s. We were the unquestioned world leader in manufacturing and we exported our products around the world. This period, however, also coincides with the rest of our economic competition (Europe, Asia) being left in ruins after World War II.
It was easy to sell our products all over the world. We had no competition, and they had to buy from us because they had no choice. We foolishly thought it was because we were better than the rest of the world, but when you deceive yourself, you become complacent. Meanwhile, your competitors aren’t suffering from this delusion of invincibility; they work harder, do a better job and eventually overtake you.
By the 1980s, the rest of the world had rebuilt, and we tried to mask our problems in the economy with massive tax cuts and deficit spending. This yielded short-term benefits but didn’t address the core issues. We continued to spend money we no longer had, trying to maintain the facade of preeminence, fooling no one but ourselves.
Some people become very upset when I say this because it threatens their warped delusion of superiority over other nations. Instead of getting upset, we should accept reality and stop living in denial. We need to match our spending with our revenue and stop putting things on the credit card.
We need to cut military spending because we can’t afford to be the world’s police force, and it’s time to let other countries do their share. Make the U.S. our priority and rebuild the roads and bridges of this country. We need to make education a priority and not just a slogan that we don’t back with money. Pay our teachers the money they rightfully deserve. Make all of our kids literate in math, science and engineering, so they are prepared to face the competition from other countries. How many of our kids are fluent in a foreign language like Chinese, Russian, or Japanese? Why not?
If we had done this in the early 80s instead of desperately clinging to the absurd notion of “American Exceptionalism,” we would be reaping the benefits now. Our economy would be booming and we wouldn’t be able to build tradeshow halls fast enough to handle all of the business.
Let’s start now. Better late than never.