Thursday, September 10, 2009

Repair or Replace?

I imagine that we've all been faced in our lives with an item that we own that is not working as well as it should be. Cars frequently fall into this category, so let's look at those cars.

You're driving along and a warning light suddenly flashes on your dashboard. What do you do? You pull into a gas station and put in gas, if that is what the light is warning you about. Or you put in oil if that's what the warning is about. You're driving and the car seems to be listing to one side. You pull into a station and check your tires, putting in air where necessary. These types of car repairs are the obvious ones and also the ones for which there is an immediate fix. Mostly we take care of such minor repairs immediately. They cost us little in terms of time and money. Sometimes we ignore those warning lights. Who really worries about putting freon in the airconditioning system when it's 42 degrees outside and snowing? We put the freon in the back of our minds to be dealt with at some point in the future.

You're driving along and your car suddenly starts making a weird groaning sound. Now you have a problem of a different kind. When you pull into the station you are not quite sure what you are going to have to fix. The mechanic listens to your car and tells you the words that strike terror in your heart: it could be the starter or it could be the engine block or it could be the brakes or it could be the exhaust system or it could be none of these or all of these. So you leave the car with the mechanic and pray a lot. Will this be a cheap repair? You hope so. But what if the repair is going to be costly? Is it worth putting in all that money into your car? Now you have to figure differently. How old is your car? Is it otherwise in great condition? How many more years could you reasonably expect to get out of the car? Does the car seem to be spending more time with the mechanic than it does with you? And yes, do you have the money to repair the car right now? If the repair will seem to cost more than the car is worth, do you have the money to buy another car? And if you have money neither for the repair nor for a new car, what alternate means of transport are available to you?

Some car owners are very good about doing routine maintenance on their vehicles, whether or not the vehicle is "misbehaving." They reason that a little preventive maintenance now will help them to avoid major repairs or replacement later. Other car owners take the attitude of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Some car owners are truly clueless about what it takes to maintain a car in top condition. Their attitude is that cars, once they leave the factory, should remain in perfect condition for the rest of their long, long lives. They place cars into the same category as things such as pictures framed and hung on the walls. Those pictures don't require maintenance so why should their cars?

Some cars fall into a different category than that described above: they are leased vehicles. You are paying to use that car but major problems with the car are not your responsibility; the leasing company needs to take care of these problems. Sometimes you may not like the way the car is driving but the leasing company either says there is no problem or there may be a problem but they're not going to fix it; if you want it fixed you're going to pay extra for that. You may or may not agree to pay that extra money. Maybe you'll just continue to drive that car, problems and all. And then the car has a major breakdown. You look to place the blame somewhere. The leasing company points the finger at you and you point your finger at the leasing company. Maybe it is the fault of the leasing company or maybe it is your fault. Or maybe it's both of your faults. Either way, there is going to be money and work involved in getting the vehicle back into working order. And sometimes that vehicle has gone as far as it is going to go and it's time to replace it.

Now imagine that it is not your car that you are dealing with. Maybe what needs repair or replacement is the yeshiva where you send your children. Maybe it's the way that vaads of kashrut are organized and run. Maybe it's how shidduchim are made. Maybe it's any one of the other issues on the agenda for Klal. We assumed for too long, way too long, that these organizations of Klal could run at optimum efficiency with little or no maintenance. We assumed that these organizations were the best vehicles we could buy. We seem to have gone to wholesale leasing when it comes to these organizations and let them dictate to us the terms of usage. And we're letting our past behavior dictate how we are responding to some real malfunctions. Some of the organizations of Klal are in need of complete overhaul, or maybe even replacement. Some have gone way beyond their logical years of use and need a new model in place. To be honest, we've spent more time in the past worrying about the state of our cars than we have in worrying about the state of Klal's organizations. And we have surely gone beyond the stage of merely talking about there being problems. Painful as it may be, it's time to yank out some old parts and replace them with new.


Rae said...

Too many times though our communities are running their own Cash for Clunkers programs in reverse. They've got a community program that is a clunker and needs to be traded in. So they ask YOU to give them some cash and they will give you another car. Only problem is that they give you a clunker in exchange for a clunker. In some cases it's like pouring money down the toilet.

This is a case where replacing a used car with another used car should not be the way to go--only postponing the inevitable and losing money in the meantime.

Anonymous said...

To continue the auto analogies, we all saw what happened to the u.s. auto industry when it refused to budge and change its ways. When there was little or no competition, they did fine pushing mediocre quality products. Then when they started getting hit by foreign competition, they kept pushing gas guzzling suv's and trucks and were supported in doing so by misguided government programs and tax incentives.

While jewish institutions don't have to worry about foreign competition (unless the aliya option is considered foreign competition), lack of flexibility and willingness to change and retool is a concern.

Rejecting the hybrid model (public or charter schools combined with after school lemudi kodesh) might prove to be as problematic as the u.s. atuo industry's refusal to enter the hybrid/fuel efficient market until others already had made significant inroads. Not making sure that the next generation is educated and trained for good jobs so that tuitions can be paid may be as whimsical as assuming that there will always be an abundant supply of cheap oil and therefore only designing big gas guzzlers and not investing in alternative energy.

Lion of Zion said...

unfortunately, jewish institutions don't work along the exact lines of the (nice) analogy you describe.

first they will have a tragic crash that totals the "car." only then when engineers are given the opportunity to build a new car from scratch using the lessons of the tragic crash will the problems that caused the crash be addressed.

Tuvi said...

Plenty of people who hold onto their old cars long past when it is economically sensible to do so because of sentimental reasons. And then there are those who hold on to the clunkers because they believe that "they aren't building cars the way they used to".

This applies to yeshivas and to lots of other institutions in klal as well. I think Lion is right that it may take a horrible crash for some people to wake up and see that we need something new to correlate to today's economy and today's realities.

Anonymous said...

The Japanese (and now to some extent the South Koreans) have been showing us how to build better, less expensive and more efficient cars, but I still haven't heard of a good alternative education model, just a lot of kicking the tires and slamming the hood and noise about bailouts in the form of vouchers which just aint gonna happen. However, some people are recognizing that the kollel system may be a hummer -- fun to drive when someone else is buying the gas, but not a good idea when gas is precious and not for a broad class of drivers.

Observer said...

"Rejecting the hybrid model (public or charter schools combined with after school lemudi kodesh) might prove to be as problematic as the u.s. atuo industry's refusal to enter the hybrid/fuel efficient market until others already had made significant inroads"

The fact that this suggestions keeps on being pushed as a viable answer forcefully reminds me of the issues with the current system.

I don't know whether this notions comes from ignorance, inability to recognize patterns or the inability to apply existing knowledge to problems productively, but this type of proposal has been tried many times, and has failed every time, for a variety of reasons.

Historically speaking, the only communities in which having frum great grandchildren and beyond was the norm, were either closed by outside force, or where there was widespread primary Jewish education - Jewish in content and context. The drop out rate of PS + After school Limudei Kodesh, historically speaking, makes our OTD rate (even at its highest estimate) look like utopia.