“In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous.” –Robert Green Ingersoll
Recently I watched the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Though no ONE entity was singled out as the murderer, it was evident that the car companies, in collusion with the gas and oil industry were mostly to blame. GM designed and produced viable electric cars that were found to be extremely satisfactory to those few people who were lucky enough to be allowed to lease and drive them. They were called EV 1. If you haven’t seen this documentary, I recommend it. In a period of about five years, GM went from making a viable electric car for which demand was building to collecting them all and sending them to the scrap yards.
After watching this movie, my husband and I recalled two other movies, both of which were fiction, but told similar stories. Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and Flash of Genius (2008) were two films about inventors that were crushed by the automobile industry, sometimes with the help of government. In Tucker, a man reinvented the automobile with visionary safety features and a stylish design. Before he could even get the car on the market, the SEC shut him down, for all intents and purposes. Tucker was brought to trial and eventually found Not Guilty of charges of fraud and misuse of funds. In Flash, a man invents a motor that will allow windshield wipers to run intermittently and the invention is stolen by Ford Motor Company. After years of fighting Ford in court, the inventor, Bob Kearns, was finally vindicated and received a settlement. Both of these films were based on actual events.
Thinking about both of these stories also brought to mind the arrest of John DeLorean in 1982. DeLorean, in case you don’t know or recall, was an automobile engineer responsible for developing the Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac Firebird. He left GM to start his own car company in 1973. The DeLorean Motor Company produced a single vehicle, the DMC 12, before the company went bankrupt. Though DeLorean was struggling, the bankruptcy became fait accompli when the Federal Government entrapped John DeLorean in a drug sting in 1982. Though it took years, DeLorean cleared his name in the end.
All of this made me wonder if any new company can be successful in this sort of climate. Growing up I was taught that if you worked hard and applied yourself, our society would reward your ingenuity. It appears as though our corporations have gotten so powerful that they use governmental agencies to squash ingenuity and steal it. The case I make here is based on the automotive industry, but I wonder if there are other stories like this from other industries.
And I wonder if America is doomed to a future of institutionalized mediocrity enforced by governmental agencies to maintain the status quo for powerful corporate interests.
I also see mediocrity rewarded daily in businesses in this country. I have spoken with co-workers at length and everyone has a story of their own and many of their relatives have also spoken of how mediocrity is rewarded and ingenuity is crushed. I wonder how many of you here have your own stories? Perhaps we as Americans should start to compile these stories in order to get a better grip on the magnitude of the problem.