Many years from now, historians will look back on this tumultuous time and attempt to make sense out of it. Let's wish them well.
At this moment, however, clarity is in scant supply. There's just no way of fully grasping the enormous changes channeling through the country and our daily lives. However, one thing already is clear: The business of going about our business has vastly changed since Sept. 11. Here's a handful of examples:
Federal government. Not so long ago, there was serious talk in corporate circles that the federal government was passe and that most of society's ills could be cured by the private sector or market forces. We're not hearing much of that anymore.
In this terrorist-torn era, ``defense'' takes on a new meaning-one that stretches beyond the military's task of girding the armed forces and striking against enemies here and abroad. It also includes the costly tasks of guarding airports and airplanes, protecting against the threat of biological and chemical attacks, overseeing the safety of farms and food and securing the nation's borders.
And then there's defending the economy. As the airlines found out recently, ``defense'' encompasses saving the hides of failing industries. It also calls for launching a multi-front monetary policy-one that includes rate cuts, tax cuts or a combination of both.
Those who once disparaged Washington as being out of touch will find it's now at the center of the action.
Manufacturing. There have been rumblings that U.S. manufacturing is not up to the job of re-arming America, should the situation come to that. Not true.
Sure, there's been a decline among some important manufacturing sectors (steel production, for one), and the U.S. has lost-some argue, forfeited-thousands of factory jobs to countries overseas, where people work on the cheap. Nevertheless, there's enough factory capacity in this country, and the labor force to deploy it, to support any war effort.
Skyscrapers. Even before the depraved assault on the World Trade Center, there were questions about the value of constructing more skyscrapers. They're expensive both to build and to maintain. Now, as security concerns mount, it's highly unlikely that any new office steeples will get off the drawing boards for a long time. The banks, insurance companies and pension funds will avoid bankrolling such efforts.
Hiring, firing. Before Sept. 11, the equation was simple: If a company wasn't making the numbers, it made up the difference by trimming staff. That was just considered your typical business practice. Now, in light of this national crisis, that strategy is being re-examined. Before lopping off jobs, CEOs must ask themselves different questions such as: Is it in the national interest to add to the unemployment rolls?
Consumer confidence. It will come back. But, it's going to take time. Everyone's comfort level is different. For instance, executives or business owners who fly regularly may soon get back on a plane. But will they also take their spouses along on business trips, or pack up the children for a jaunt to Disney World? Not yet, no matter how cheap it is to fly.
These are only a few ways in which things are changing. There will be more. Each will test our resolve and ability to persevere.
Robert Reed is the editor of Crain's Chicago Business, a sister publication of Tire Business.