A Better Mousetrap


Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

Americans believe in better mousetraps. That’s because they used to build the best ones in the world. Nowadays things are changing and they build mainly military products, which are great for killing people and enriching arms peddlers but not so great for making friends. Nor are all their military projects successful. Take the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project, for example, the fattest military procurement operation in history. That atypical multi-purpose fighter plane, known among insiders as “the plane that sunk the Pentagon,” is a lemon in all of its unwieldy versions. According to one qualified critic, Pierre Sprey, “Its only purpose is to channel billions of dollars to Lockheed Martin.” 

In 1953, Charles E. Wilson, then the president of General Motors, told a congressional committee, “What is good for General Motors is good for the country,” and he was essentially right. GM was then the leading automobile manufacturer in the greatest manufacturing country the world had ever seen. Detroit was the undisputed industrial capital of the world in the first six decades of the 20th century. In the 1930s Gary, Indiana, the world’s leading steel producer, was actually cloned on the Russian steppes as Magnitogorsk, Russia’s steel city. Magnitogorsk aspired to be a model of industrial greatness and is still making steel today, though it has become a world-class showplace for contamination and dysfunctional industrialism. Think Flint, Michigan.

Here’s today’s automobile production reality (2017 figures from ceoworld.biz):

  1. China: 24.81 million units
  2. Japan: 8.35 million units
  3. Germany: 5.65 million units
  4. India: 3.95 million units
  5. South Korea: 3.74 million units
  6. United States: 3.03 million units
  7. Spain: 2.29 million units

What Happened to America’s Mousetrap Dominance?

Times change. The United States’s industrial dominance was consolidated during World War II with her prodigious production of tanks, planes, liberty ships and all the materiel that goes with winning a war. Post-war America, rich in Texas oil and floating in near-obscene abundance, saw no reason for varying the formula that put them on top. So they continued to build massive cars run on cheap gasoline, with no regard for what the Germans and the Japanese were doing. The Americans had already conquered them once and had nothing to fear. That’s why they took an inordinately long time to notice that the Germans and the Japanese were building better mousetraps. They took so long, in fact, that there was no catching up and their once all-powerful auto industry turned to the Great American Rust Belt. Today it exists solely thanks to government bailouts, and no one knows for how long.

Not to worry, though, as a select group of brilliant American businessmen had already discovered and were exploiting the new dream business, and it wasn’t manufacturing.  It was a money-spinner that was quicker, easier and more profitable than manufacturing grommets. It was financial services, 21st-century capitalism’s answer to alchemy. As academic, Christopher Witko, explains in an article in The Washington Post (March 29, 2016): 

… many observers believe that this expansion of the financial sector comes at a high cost. Scholars and politicians alike point to the “financialization” of the economy — and an increased reliance on the financial sector to create growth — as the root cause of many of our economic problems. The list includes income inequality, growing household debt, slow growth and the instability manifested in the 2008 global economic crisis.

Is this to suggest that financial operators are highly motivated to influence politics and policy in favor of their sector’s growth? It seems obvious and goes a long way to explain the meteoric rise of Washington’s financial-sector lobbyists. The more “adjustments” they can achieve for their bank and hedge-fund clients the more money everybody (except the American taxpayer) makes. And plowing some of that money back into ever-more-sophisticated lobbying efforts further oils the machine and keeps it spinning.

Who’s Doing the Great Mousetraps These Days?

Two countries are very much in the news in this respect lately, China and Russia, the former for their world-beating Huawei G5 fifth-generation high-speed communications kit and the latter for the S-400 anti-aircraft missile. Both new products touch raw nerve ends in the United States, and for obvious reasons. The Trump administration actually banned Huawei in the States–and in the process left Huawei’s founder’s daughter floundering under house arrest in Canada for allegedly violating American commercial sanctions, leaving the poor Canadians holding the ball.

The irony here is that the Chinese G5 system is at least two years ahead of its American competitors in development, and they have no hope of catching up any time soon. So urgent is their need for the Huawei equipment in order to deploy their own G5 services that they pressured President Trump into lifting the ban. How did the Chinese get so far ahead? As they weren’t busy running consecutive wars around the world, they had the time and resources to devote to technological development. So they built a better mousetrap.

Looked at from the outside–and it’s difficult to observe these highly-secret military matters from the inside–it seems the Russians stole a march on the Americans with the S-400, an anti-aircraft missile that will shoot down anything from the size of a football, at any speed, at any altitude and from a long way off. Not only that, but after American stalling for years on the sales of the–admittedly inferior–Patriot missiles to their allies, the Russians are merrily peddling the S-400 around the world, including to US Middle East partner, Turkey, a bitter pill for Uncle Sam. The Russians were helped greatly in this by the fact that the S-400 is not only superior to its American counterpart. It’s also less than half the price.

What Will the Americans Counter With?

That’s not quite clear yet. Their research-and-development and industrial resources having been relegated in recent years in favor of military adventures and tax cuts, they’re reduced to using their once-reliable strategies of smoke and mirrors. “Once-reliable” because President Trump, with his bold frankness and naive bravado, has drawn the curtain back on United States geopolitical objectives and strategies, and the Americans now have trouble taking the world by surprise. Broken treaties and repeated lies have convinced the world that they can no longer be trusted. It’s unlikely they will win this race with their usual black-ops public-relations campaigns,  patriotism, bluster, threats, false-flag operations or their new favorite recourse: sanctions. None of these ploys looks promising anymore. Nothing works like a better mousetrap.

Thanks for sharing.



Author: Michael Booth

Michael Booth, the creator of TrumpAndAllTheRest.com, is a US-born publicist, author and online publisher who has lived in a Spanish village in the foothills of Sierra Nevada for the past five decades. Though better known abroad for his fine-art printmaking sites and online magazine, Booth's day job for the past decade and a half, until recently, was his communications agency, dedicated principally to designing and implementing Internet strategies for Spanish companies and institutions. It took him a long time to get out of publicity and into writing but it was worth the wait.

3 thoughts on “A Better Mousetrap”

  1. Hi Mike – Jamie Davidson gave me your letter. I enjoyed reading it and plan on reading others. Fascinating to me that you have spent the past 50 years abroad and live in Spain. I love Spain! Interesting how 4 students, you, Davidson, Jeff Puryer(sp?) and I, all in the same Don Kasuba’s Spanish class depended on Spanish later in our lives. I pioneered the growing of sweet onions in South America and grew them in Chile, Peru, Brazil. Of course as I am sure you know, Jeff spent 20 years in Chile and Peru. It was great hearing about you and that you are doing so well.
    Jim Huston


  2. Hi Jim, Fancy meeting you here. Yes, we all left for points south. I would love to hear your stories from South America. Actually, I didn’t study Spanish in high school. I did French in college, then arrived in Spain like a babe in arms. Next time you come to Spain, advise with an email to mikebooth61(at)gmail.com, and we’ll sit down and compare notes.
    Give my best to Jamie. Is he still the mayor? And yourself, Mike


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