Thoughtful Response to Professor Togo

John Buettner, an engineer now retired from the Donaldson Company here in Minnesota (but not from the esprit d’corps of the Marines), had a thoughtful response to the policy recommendations of Professor Togo, previously posted here.

John’s response can be found here:

Dear Steve:

I thought Professor Togo’s rather short article was exceptional. Japan is the land of judo and having been into judo in my younger years, it’s about balance and using your adversary’s weight in your favor. I see this possibility in the coronavirus pandemic. Professor Togo writes, “COVID-19 may be opening up a critically important opportunity.” This opportunity might very well take hold. It is in everyone’s interest to have policies that are simultaneously best for the home country and the rest of the world. This is revolutionary. It’s a far cry from the win/lose strategy of doing what’s best for oneself at the expense of others. A change will come, but what will change?

Capitalism will change. The current model of laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t work well, at least in terms of a pandemic. While many businesses are moral, all are self-serving to varying degrees. Worrying about the status of one’s competition is seldom, if ever, an issue. Worrying about the status of “non-customers” is also not an issue. These concepts will have to change. Rewards systems inside a company will have to change. Individuals who cannot buy one’s products or services are indeed important to the well-being of a company. That’s new. Just ask any firm whose value has been decimated and whose markets are, at best, suspended for a while and might never recover.

Health care will change. The health care system in the U.S. is particularly worth looking at. In a country with the highest worldwide GDP and with the highest worldwide percentage of GDP in health care, health care during this pandemic is abysmal. This should not be surprising. Health care focuses on expensive and unique treatments of predictable sicknesses and health care problems. The U.S. generally does this quite well. However, it gives only lip service to prevention. The result is that “the world’s best health care in the world” is not working. To address unpredictable and intermittent health care problems such as the coronavirus doesn’t make business sense if prevention is ignored. While there certainly is some work done in the area of prevention, research in this area is dwarfed when compared with research on treatment of existing health problems. Focusing on expensive drugs, treatments and specialists is more about money and power than it is about health care. We need a prevention-focused model. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly demanded it. In addition, the rich and powerful countries of the world had better be watchful and helpful to the large segments of the world population who have little, especially in health care.

By the way, the “prevention” focused model has been in manufacturing for many, many decades. It has yet to genuinely take hold in health care. Having spent most of my profession in process development in manufacturing, absolutely no one could compete if their primary focus was not in prevention. Health care is a very complex system. Pandemics are even more perplexing because they are intermittent, largely unpredictable and don’t believe in borders. They also come and go with a vengeance, well outside of the timing abilities of for-profit pharmaceutical companies. The current model of health care doesn’t work and will have to change.

Attitudes towards other countries and other peoples will change. Does MAGA (Making America Great Again) make sense when most of our manufacturing is offshore and the health care systems of many other countries are notably better? If we are not willing to help others, others will not help us. Attitudes toward money, the stock market and our leaders will also have to change. While we tend to think that paying a lot gets a lot, our health care system says otherwise. Similarly, the quality of our senior leadership says otherwise. Money doesn’t necessarily buy quality. The stock market, once touted as a very stable place to fund start-up companies, is little more than a roulette table. The gig is up. Our financial leaders have made it very emotionally driven and self-serving. Everyone knows this in spades and we can thank the coronavirus pandemic for that. Leadership will no longer be about being glib, well connected and pedigreed. It will move towards being competent, honorable and doing what is right.

Sam Cooke said it best, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.” The fact that an inanimate virus is the impetus behind it, rather than our intellect and compassion, is somewhat disconcerting, but a change is going to come.

Semper Fi,