Friday, April 8, 2011

West Coast Customs

…man never regards what he possesses as so much his own, as what he does; and the labourer who tends a garden is perhaps in a truer sense its owner, than the listless voluptuary who enjoys its fruits… - Wilhelm von Humboldt writing in The Limits of State Action

I don't watch a lot of TV, but this last weekend I watched a bit of a show called West Coast Customs and found myself annoyed.

If you don't know it's a show on Discovery about a custom auto shop that does amazing things. I'm watching an episode and supremely impressed with the work being done. It's a lot of Mexicans doing the amazing work. Maybe some are illegals. I don't know. But then there's the owner who basically walks around and complains. "Is the work done yet? Why not?" kind of thing. In one scene he says something like "Yeah, I thought I'd come in here since the guys are working through the night to get this extremely important and urgent job done. You know, sort of as motivation." So he's there whining and complaining as if he's helping while the Mexicans are doing the actual work, which is like amazing artistry.

OK, so the CEO is annoying. That's not surprising. He's there to make money, etc. Fine. So then it's a commercial break. Here's the commercial. It's a lot of images of this CEO doing this idiot finger thing. As if he is the one responsible. As if the success of the shop is largely due to the fact that he comes in occasionally and complains about the work not being done. As if he brings some sort of important attitude. I never saw him do a bit of real work on the show.

It's not that I have a problem with him being successful. But who is really the impressive one here? Is it Ryan Friedlinghause with his finger signs and tattoos? Or is it these Mexican workers who put together these amazing creations? Are we supposed to be impressed because Ryan provided the capital needed to purchase some equipment? We return to the show and it's a car for the lead singer of Korn. The Mexicans work all weekend and Ryan delivers the car. The Korn singer is falling all over himself. "Ryan you are amazing. Thank you so much. I owe you such a debt of gratitude."

Yeah, it's a good thing Ryan walks around showing off his tattoos. He's self made as you can see. Did it all by himself. He's got that three fingers up thing. Where would we be without him?

I'm sure Ryan does important things. It's not like he's irrelevant to the success of West Coast Customs. Apparently his grandfather gave him some money. He probably took risks, worked pretty hard, and now he's wealthy and that's great. But there's just an imbalance in terms of the way credit is given. He is not self made. He is indebted to many hard working and creative people that are all around him.

It's the same in the rest of corporate America. Here's the latest Ford Mustang. A beautiful car. Who did that? Who made that? If you check Wikipedia they say it's a guy named Doug Gafka. Doug Gafka was the design director. I don't know Doug Gafka, but I have serious doubts that he designed this. What he probably did was he looked at various designs that were created by others. He contributed to the selection of the final design. That's an important role of course and he deserves some credit. But who designed it? Who took the clay and shaped it? Who laid out the sheet metal in the CAD tool? In the case of the Ford Mustang maybe you could track that down. But I think in a lot of cases, more so with less prominent creations, the credit goes to the CEO or the Program Manager. It's not that they don't do important things. In many cases they do (though in many they probably don't). But it seems that the laborer, the one that actually did the creating, he's not really recognized. He should be.


HispanicPundit said...

That reminds me of my pet peeve of how the public views politicians. If the economy does well, they give credit to some politician in Washington.

Ugghhh! No! All the politicians in Washington can do is move money around and harm an economy. They don't 'create' things, or 'invent' things, or really 'do' anything. That's the private sector.

Jon said...

The government plays a huge role in economic performance. Guess what. Health of the population affects economic performance. So does education. So does infrastructure. Measures that rehabilitate struggling families matter. Keeping checks on corruption matter.

And the government certainly does create conditions lead to inventions. What do you think is happening at Los Alamos or the National Institute of Health?

It's almost like you have these slogans and they're just so ingrained in your mind you can't extract yourself. Didn't you recently say something about the US going around promoting democracy in Latin American and the Middle East? Are you going to let reality inform your worldview at some point or no?

HispanicPundit said...

But the same can be said of Ryan Friedlinghause and West Coast Customs...I mean, he provided the funding, sets the rules, and the environment. How is he different?

But we both agree that's secondary (dont we?) - it's the doers that should get the credit. And the doers in the economy are the private actors. Not the politicians.

Even on this comparison, politicians are worse - politicians have no real check on them, if they go too far, they hardly get blamed (especially at the local level)...entrepreneurs like Ryan Friedlinghause atleast feel the direct threat of bankruptcy if they mess up.

Jon said...

You're not responding to what I said. Are you going to stand by this claim that "all politicians can do is harm an economy". Or that they aren't responsible for creating things, like the internet, computers, health advances, etc?

Ryan is different from the government in that his motive is profit and his horizon must be shorter term. His concern is not the public at large, but his own bottom line. That's why government is a key component in an invention like computers. Ryan is able to use government creations (roads, computers, etc) to make a profit. The price of oil is very relevant to his success. He relies on government.

You're right about the poor checks on politicians. That's because we don't have functional democracy. Our incumbency rate is higher than what was in the Soviet Union.

HispanicPundit said...

Yep - sure am. I dont think the marginal improvements in the economy correlate well to the marginal politicians effort, except on the negative side. The vast majority of it is the private sector.

My point is this: the arguments you made can be made STRONGER with regard to politicians - yet the population at large makes the same mistake. I am not arguing that politicians (or Ryan Friedlinghause) make ZERO contributions....only that its substantially less than people give them credit for.

Jon said...

OK, but you first said that politicians don't do ANYTHING. Now you are saying what they do is marginal. That's progress.

I'd say the technological advances, infrastructure, health, education are not producing marginal economic gains. It's huge economic gains. Look for instance at Hawaii's health care situation. That's government intrusion that produces a HUGE economic benefit. Radically reduced insurance premiums and the healthiest state in the union. Hawaii would be in much worse condition without it.

HispanicPundit said...

I am saying the same thing. It's just in two different contexts. In my initial comment, I was talking about the act of "doing" (which, btw, was an extension of YOUR definition of the act of doing)...meaning creating, inventing, designing, actually 'doing' something. When a car is delivered from West Coast Customs...Ryan didn't do the 'doing', it was all the Mexicans. In that sense, politicians dont 'do' (notice the quotes!) anything. I still believe that.

You write:

I'd say the technological advances, infrastructure, health, education are not producing marginal economic gains.

That may be so (arguendo - though I dont necessarily agree), but how much did "politician A" have to do with that? That was probably years, even centuries, of work all spread out across time. It was also nothing particular about any individual politician. Any other politician from the same district would have done the same (especially if said infrastructure brought economic gain to that district). Then that politician itself was probably incidental...its like the 70th politician to vote for a bill...even without him, the bill would have passed.

Then there is the losses. All of the money spent on infrastructure, for example, had to come from somewhere. And that loss of private sector revenue meant job losses and reduction in standard of living. Now granted, the infrastructure being built *might* have produced more economic gain than the loss of the revenue...but the costs of the losses should be included in any cost/benefit analysis.

Lastly, even given all this best case scenario, the gains are not all that consequential. Hawaii's standard of living isnt noticably higher than any other state with different health care implementations. It doesnt seem to matter all that much (even given the fact that healthcare is a BIG issue).

So let me ask you Jon: who do you think matters more for our standard of living, the 'marginal' entrepreneur or the 'marginal' politician? The marginal Ryan Friedlinghause or the modern Ken Calvert?

Sysopz said...

Sorry guys the TV show is cool nd all but WCC does horrible work.

Yes they have some cool ideas and some talent but most of their builds are a kin to movie prop hack jobs that don't hold up.

Just like OCC they TV show and celeb clients that are also looking for face time on TV is what drives WCC...bad work is just that BAD!

Unknown said...

The WCC design and interior and exterior is cool, but they need to improve on the technology side. I saw a series where they need to push M Scooter into to trunk. Sean struggled a lot and finally came up with robot hand which was crap. I have the better idea to do things like this. Technology is important when doing custom car.

Lee's Freedom Blog said...

Wow, some much hate for Ryan, who started with small cash loan and him and few others in very small shop, started doing custom work and as his business grew he hires more people with skills. Many of his jobs are small but the show pushed BIG projects. But I guess you guys would call Henry Ford a no body but he actually helped work up several of his first designs, he invested a lot, made the hard calls, pushed workers and their reward is generally in the paycheck at end of week, bonuses possibly, insurance, etc. Ryan has millions in overhead in materials, parts, paint supplies. Hell a paint shop that does one car at a time can ha e as much as $50k in basic supplies just to repaint/repair cars, let alone customs paint mixing wall to mix custom color, heck computer and database from one paint company is like $10k plus. Some of those customers pearls and metal flakes the additives to add to paint base can be $50-$100 a container. Base paints can run $100+ a gallon, some custom colors are multiple layers. Like $2500 a car or more. Ryan has SO much to keep moving so those guys have thousands of dollars in raw material to use for builds. Oh and government is not what pushes the economy, the government is to protect the country, some basic infrastructure, and reasonable regulations. Heck in California he had to sit h to all waterborne paint. Paint wall there is like $250k to start, then he also has to maintain a storage for clean up and waste just from paint work.

Unknown said...

Ryan is a self made man do research before you judge him like to see you try to do a fraction of what he has accomplished!

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