Economy: Impossible

Chef Robert Irvine hosts a fantastically entertaining show on the food network, Restaurant: Impossible in which he attempts to turn around failing restaurants with a combination of customer-centric business savvy, a tremendous work-ethic, psychological counseling and a healthy dose of yelling.  To be sure much of the show is geared toward the theatrical, and the businesses are helped by an infusion of cash and at least a temporary bump from appearing on TV.  But the show illustrates a very important aspect of business - it's not all about the cash. Often the proprietors have poured copious quantities of their own money and time into the business only to fail due to their poor decisions, management techniques and food preparation.  Chef Robert provides something more valuable than capital or marketing; he provides entrepreneurism.  He roots out the structural problems in the business plan, or lack thereof, and attempts to fundamentally improve the way the restaurant treats the customer so that they may become profitable in the long term.

I would love to see the show's producers add another layer to the show by providing a subsection of the applicants with cash and free advertising by appearing on the show but with no advice from Chef Robert.  This "control arm" would provide a valuable insight into the application of "stimulus" without any intelligent market direction.  I have little doubt that the control group businesses would continue to struggle more often than not.

You may have guessed that I see this show as an allegory to our current economic struggles and the government's attempt to literally paper them over.  But let me stop you before you think that I am suggesting a layer of guidance bureaucracy atop the stimulus.  Besides the fact that any such bureaucrats are unlikely to have the skills or proper incentives to succeed in such an endeavor, there is already a much better structure in place to provide this market guidance - profit and loss.  When a business fails, the Chef Roberts of the world can take the capital that has been producing things people don't want to buy and apply their knowledge and skills to employ the capital in making things people do want to buy.  They will not always succeed, but they will certainly produce more wealth on the whole than we will by throwing money at bad ideas.

Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion—in the long run these are the only people who count . . -- Robert Heinlein 
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