Emergency Landing

In his early book The End of Economic Man, Peter Drucker wrote that to solve a “problem merely as one of temporary political expediency is not to solve it at all.” He happened to be talking specifically about the contradictions of Marxism, but the principle is of course universal. Quick fixes of expedience aren’t much of a fix.

So what are we to make of the restoration of air flight traffic controllers at our airports? Many had recently been furloughed, owing to the mandatory federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Air travelers—pretty much all of us, that is—raised hell.

As a result, Congress voted last week to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to dip into airport improvement funds in order to hire back the furloughed controllers. Up to $253 million that had previously been targeted for airport improvements will now go to meeting payroll.

The nation’s airports are “relieved that air traffic controller furloughs will soon end, returning our nation’s air transportation system to full capacity,” said David Edwards, chief executive officer of the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport District and chairman of the trade group Airports Council International. “However, we are very disappointed . . . as these funds were paid by passengers to maintain and enhance airport runways and taxiways, not fund FAA operations.”

In Drucker’s view, one of the most important, and challenging, of management tasks is to harmonize the needs of the present with the needs of the future. “Managers cannot sacrifice either without endangering the enterprise,” Drucker warned in People and Performance. “They must, so to speak, keep their noses to the grindstone while lifting their eyes to the hills—which is quite an acrobatic feat.”

SnellenIdeally, Drucker added, managers must “be sound in expediency as well as in basic long-range objective and principle. And where they cannot harmonize the two time dimensions, they must at least balance them.”

That’s hard enough for ordinary managers. It’s a lot harder for politicians, for whom the short-term almost always wins out over long. As Drucker noted in Managing in the Next Society: “Gaining short-term popularity while risking long-term economic costs” was a universal phenomenon. “It is the same with politicians everywhere,” Drucker wrote. “It makes little difference which party is in power or how much it promises to cut or control.”

What do you think of the decision Congress made to dip into long-term airport improvement funds to patch up short-term operations?