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The Game Has Changed

Written by Steve Christ
Posted August 9, 2006 at 8:00AM

Baltimore, MD- Where once there were fortunes made only the weeds now grow. But it's not the weeds here that are so noticeable as it is the silence.

Amongst these massive buildings there should be noise...lots of noise. The kind of noise that requires earplugs. The kind of noise that is made when thousands of burly tobacco chewers turn ore into steel.

But it's quiet now, eerie almost. There is nothing left but the silence. It's deafening.

So goes the landscape at Sparrows Point, the former home of the greatest metal making machine on earth.

What used to be a jewel has now become a relic.

Sure, Mittal Steel still does some work here, but it's not much in comparison to the days when 30,000 workers called the mill their home. Just over 1000 people work here now and vast portions of its 300 acres have been either demolished or sit empty.

But don't think for a minute that is was "cheap imports" that killed Sparrows Point because it wasn't. It was complacency.

The vast fortunes made at company headquarters in Bethlehem Pa. didn't go back into the company but into the pockets of its executives. And this greed was only compounded by its blindness.

Their mistake was simple but tragic. They believed that life in the future would be pretty much what it had been in the past.

Their blindness led them to believe that their World War II era blast furnaces were just fine. Because of this they didn't see fit to develop a decent R&D facility or invest in the new technology that was being developed in Europe and Japan.

Instead they colluded with other U. S. steelmakers, divided up the markets, and raised prices to maintain their grip on power. And to protect themselves even further they worked to "freeze their hegemony" by supporting the anti-import campaigns in the 60's.

In short, "the Steel"- as it was called- had become fat, dumb, and happy.

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And in doing so they had stopped taking risks.

So when competition struck from both home and abroad in the 70's "the Steel" was caught flat footed.

It could neither adjust nor adapt. And in a short time it was gone- creatively destroyed by the unseen hand.

In January 2004 Bethlehem Steel Corp was dissolved. Its 131 million shares of stock were cancelled at zero. And in its wake some 95,000 retired employees had their pensions and health care benefits taken away from them by some accountants muttering something about "stranded costs".

Sadly, "the Steel" was not alone. Rusty plants and displaced workers can be found everywhere across this great land.

This is what happens when companies refuse to compete. This is what happens when companies refuse to adapt. This is what happens when companies refuse to adjust.

One moment you're on top and in the next you've been sucked down the memory hole.

It is an all too familiar story and one that continues to cause us ache and anxiety today.

But it's not going away... not now ...not ever. In fact, it's getting worse.

You see, Thomas Freidman is right... the world really is flat.

And globalization is here to stay.

The world after all has changed. The U.S. military has ensured it.

And it has changed in this way - Pax Americana has meant the end of great power conflict.

We don't have to worry about the Russians pouring into the Fulda Gap anymore or the Germans sweeping through Belgium. Those days are over. And no developed country on earth wants to tangle with the U.S. military. That would be a death wish.

Because of this, war as a means to compete is off the table.

In its wake, however, we are left with war by other means- economic.

And it is this arena that we now find ourselves in at the turn of the century. Our military power may be without peer, but our economy is under assault by the forces of the free market. The very capitalism we unleashed on the world has return to our shores.

Like it or not the new world order is upon us. And we can't afford to be fat, happy, and dumb anymore. To survive we're going to have to adjust, adapt, and take risks.

To survive we are going to have to compete. And to survive we are going to have to have vision.

One such vision is the "NAFTA Super Highway", a 4000 mile highway linking the U.S. to both Mexico and Canada in effort to promote and facilitate free trade on the North American Continent. This massive project will include energy pipelines and railways as well as ten lanes of traffic. Its mission is to help us compete in future world markets.

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But like any bold project it has its many critics.

The black helicopter crowd perceives the highway as just part of the script written by the Trilateral Commission at the behest of the Bilderbergers.

The environmental crowd naturally decries the loss of open space and specter of more pollution

The unions complain about the loss of jobs that it could create at the nation's ports.

And others ominously warn that the highway will "cut the nation in two."

All of these critics have one thing in common-fear. Specifically fear of change.

But the truth is it's just a road. Like any road it increases productivity. Like any road it creates opportunity and growth.

And if it helps us compete on the global stage, then let's have it.

And if it helps us create a North American Union that can compete with the economic alliances forming in Europe and Asia, it may well serve us in the long run.

The alternative is to do nothing and hope that everything will be pretty much the same.

We've seen how that works out.

It is whole new world out there and we've got to compete.

There is no future in the past.

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