December 21, 2009
Column | big picture

Logistics community remains rattled but resilient

If there's a bright side to the economic miseries of 2009, it's in the personal resilience and fortitude I've seen from so many in this industry.

By Peter Bradley

Well, thank goodness that's over. I don't imagine too many of us will miss 2009 and the economic misery it brought. I don't pretend to understand all the financial sleight-of-hand that briefly enriched a few before impoverishing many. But while mulling all this over recently, it occurred to me that the Wall Street investors who created and purchased those monstrosities actually didn't understand them any better than I did. That may explain in part why the deals imploded the way they did. It was three-card monte taken to the extreme.

In a marvelous new book called Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? author Michael J. Sandel reflects at one point on Wall Street executives who defended their enormous bonuses in the face of their enormous failure by arguing that the recession was caused by forces well beyond their control. Sandel then asks the pertinent follow-up question: "If big systemic economic forces account for the disastrous losses of 2008 and 2009, couldn't it be argued that they also account for the dazzling gains of earlier years?" In other words, if, by the financial executives' own argument, they don't deserve to be penalized in bad times, then they can't exactly take credit for the good times either. "Surely the end of the Cold War, the globalization of trade and capital markets, the rise of personal computers and the Internet, and a host of other factors help explain the success of the financial industry during its run in the 1990s and in the early years of the twenty-first century," he writes. (Sandel's book offers a cogent overview of some of the philosophical underpinnings of our economic system. I recommend it.)

Most of us are at some remove from the high-risk, high-reward, and potentially calamitous machinations of Wall Street. Yet as we all found out rather painfully —and for many, the pain is deep and lasting —our economic system links us all inextricably. Down in the trenches where most logistics and material handling managers work, the consequences were all too real. Motor carrier bankruptcies, sharp drops in orders for material handling equipment, excess inventories, the departures of friends and colleagues, and questions about business survival and personal financial well being touched us all.

In the face of such a severe economic crisis, it is frustrating, to say the least, to know that doing everything right may not be enough. But if there's a bright side to all this, it's in the personal resilience and fortitude I've seen from so many in this industry who've shown themselves to be willing and able to keep on keeping on.

About the Author

Peter Bradley
Editor Emeritus
Peter Bradley is an award-winning career journalist with more than three decades of experience in both newspapers and national business magazines. His credentials include seven years as the transportation and supply chain editor at Purchasing Magazine and six years as the chief editor of Logistics Management.

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