Wednesday, January 14, 2009

498 Heimlich, anyone?

498  Heimlich, Anyone? 

 It was 35 years ago this year, when Dr. Henry  Heimlich first told us  about his now-standard method for helping choking  victims... saving countless lives. Many are here today only because of this simple procedure. 

 But many people wouldn't need it if they didn't bite off more than  they can chew, advice mama gave us all from the moment we started eating solid food as infants.

 As is often the case with mama's advice, (a) we don't take it... or (b) we don't look for the concepts behind it and try to apply them elsewhere.  

 So, what we need is a Heimlich maneuver that works on more than a careless food hog at the lunch counter. If there were such a thing, we might have a different world. 


Well, the United States may be choking on debt.  Coughing it up may eventually happen, but for now, maybe we need a Heimlich maneuver to speed it  along.  Some companies are choking on acquisitions. Their  eyes are bigger than  their stomachs. They ingest everything in sight and need a Heimlich  maneuver, to harmlessly dislodge things. 

Can we choke on growth? Of course.  If we eat too fast or eat too much.  If you notice the way things happen in nature, you'll see that very little of consequence grows to maturity overnight.  Maybe bacteria or fruit flies.  And you'll also notice that when something DOES reach maturity, it stops, or at least slows down. 

We go through cycles of binge buying and binge expansion, and we proudly stand there basking in the glow of our bragging rights, only to find that we've often bitten off more than we could chew.

There are so many examples it's hard to know where to start -- plus it's a rampant condition and therefore unfair to single out any  one or even any dozen examples other than the couple we mentioned.  But if you look around you, you will find them on your own. 

 Sometimes the medicine to fix this affliction is pretty bitter. Sometimes, it's administered behind bars -- or in bankruptcy court, when it could have been prevented with the accounting equivalent of a calorie counting chart and a bathroom scale. 

 But the thing about those tools is this: if they are to work, you have to actually USE them.  And sometimes in our rush at the table, we forget -- or ignore rational self  regulation of our appetites. 

 There is no financial equivalent of the Heimlich maneuver.  Not the various bailouts, the thawing of credit or the end to the dizzying spending of American resources on a needless war.  And until there is, think about another piece of advice from mama: when you're full, leave the table. 

Parts of this entry are based on an essay first broadcast on Bloomberg Radio.  


--The Madoff story shows a major flaw in law.  It doesn't matter how severely or painfully the guy is punished if convicted.  The law does almost nothing to make his victims whole.

--The same's true of a drunk driver who hits and kills a pedestrian.  Sure, the guy goes to jail and is made to suffer.  But what does the law do for the dead guy or his family?

--Next week at this time, we will have a new President.  Will America change overnight?  No, that'll take some time, so please be patient.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®

©WJR 2004, 2009.

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