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A tour of an idea factory

Column/Ken Meltsner

Most of you have never been inside of an idea factory before, so I caution you not to bother the workers. They may look just like The Thinker, but don't touch. They can be dangerous.

It's not dangerous for our highly skilled workers. We take pride in the safety here. We've spent more than $3000 per worker for acoustic insulation and carpeting. It's a lot of money, but we believe in the best for our "little thinkers."

In this factory, we make all sorts of ideas. We have big ones and little ones, Great Ideas and not-so-Great. We supply both hand-crafted and mass-produced ideas to thousands of idea resellers. (A separate division, Technical Ideas, supplies all of our nation's scientists.)

We have a very distinguished clientele. Gary Hart was one of our clients. He went for our Fog Special -- form without substance, just $1000 for a cubic yard. He didn't want to pay for the substance, and so he lost the election. Reagan's advisors never scrimped on their purchases here, and look where he's now. Not bad for a "washed-up" announcer from "Death Valley Days."

Political work is a big part of our production, of course, but most politicians want the same ideas. We used to carry a sporty line of sharply tailored ideas, but they just didn't sell. Most politicians are content with mass-produced ideas we sell to the special interest groups.

The biggest problem with the idea business is getting people to pay -- Hey kid! Don't touch that guy! Yes, I know he looks like he's sleeping. Look, if you can't behave yourself, you'll have to go back to the reception area.

Where was I? That's right, I was talking about how some people just don't appreciate a good idea. For example, you just can't get anyone in the auto industry to look at a new idea. They'd rather buy it from the Japanese. Ford may have a better idea, but they sure didn't get it from us. (A little idea-biz humor, there.)

The entire idea business is losing out to foreigners. Every auto that the Japanese sell also sells Japanese management ideas. All those Italian loafers and French dresses make our ideas look clunky and out-of-style.

We feel the only way to compete is to cooperate. Buy foreign ideas, dress them up a bit, add a few local touches and resell them. The Association of Idea Mongers and Knowledge Workers might protest, but it's the only way to compete.

The European idea companies are associated with the biggies like Communism or Toryism or all those other "isms." Think of what their reputation could do for our sales! But these damn local content laws ruin our business.

Look at all those great ideas that we could import into America. Co-determination, National Health Insurance, or even by-mail voter registration would be big sellers if we could get them by the quotas.

We have got to face up to the cold truth: America's ideas haven't been the same since Locke [not an American] and Jefferson and all those guys. We haven't had a big export job since the French Revolution.

Well, that's the end of our tour. You know, you were lucky to take the tour this month. We'll be closing the factory in a few years, and most of the staff will take early retirement. The factory will be down to half-capacity by next year.

The whole American idea business is shutting down. We've tried to sell the idea of turning this place into a Faneuil Hall-type mall, but that's about it. I guess no one can save an industry whose time has gone.