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Commentary: Being Selfish About the Past

By Anthony Ogorek

Buffalo, NY – One of the major trends driving global political and economic policies is what I call positive-overcapacity. There is a general consensus that as a society, we are over-retailed, over-restauranted and over-airlined. Inflation has remained quiescent, in part, due to gains in productivity, but also because excess capacity has restrained the ability of businesses to push through price increases that will stick.

Although overcapacity has helped to keep inflation in check, thereby delivering real value to the consumer over the past decade, a different kind of overcapacity is impeding our region's ability to overcome the continuing loss of our most productive citizens. One of the reasons that the Niagara Frontier has been unable to get up off the mat of late is its struggle with what I call negative-overcapacity. Just as positive-overcapacity has delivered lower prices to consumers throughout the nation, the type of negative-overcapacity we are experiencing in Upstate New York drains resources, as we struggle to maintain an infrastructure built for twice the population.

Negative-overcapacity pervades every aspect of our lives, producing substandard schools, governmental services, medical care and believe it or not, religious services. All of this eventually provides a negative feedback loop, the result of which is a continuing exodus of people from our region. How can we turn the tables on this state of affairs? It all starts with an acknowledgement that more money is not the answer to our problems; utilizing the dollars we have in a more creative fashion will provide the impetus to get our region on the move once again.

One of the reasons that negative-overcapacity has been able to flourish has been the ethnic composition of our community. This has fostered lower turnover in our population than in other parts of the country; hence, the different local constituencies want their neighborhood or cultural identity on their schools, governmental entities, hospitals and churches. What started out as a quaint way for immigrant populations to create a unique community brand has turned into a metastasizing monster that is driving away our best, brightest and wealthiest citizens.

Negative-overcapacity has the potential to provide Western New Yorker's with less than optimal medical care. In the Buffalo region, we have five hospitals that are competing for a limited pool of open heart patients. Why are they doing this; because open heart surgeries are profitable due their relatively high reimbursement rate. How does this hurt our region? Simply put, surgical teams work best when they work a lot. It is not coincidental that renowned medical centers such as the Cleveland Clinic handle a tremendous number of cases, often drawing patients from beyond their geographic area. Simply put, the more work surgeons get, the better they become.

Our region has a rich legacy of churches and church affiliated schools. On the one hand they serve as a reminder of ethnic pride, yet the sheer number of underutilized churches and schools creates a financial burden that robs these churches of resources that could be better spent on improved liturgies, more outreach programs for the poor and disenfranchised and more innovative educational programs for their students. By trying to preserve their past, many religious communities are providing an inferior product for those of us who remain.

There is little doubt that on a per capita basis, Western New York has too many towns and villages, too many school districts and too many libraries. With our population base continuing to decline, why do we fight right-sizing our community organizations so that they can be more responsive to present day needs?

Holding on to too much of the past that really doesn't work anymore, is one of the main reasons that our community is unable to collectively move forward. Only when we put the past in perspective, will we create a present that meets the needs of our community, without breaking the bank. Each of us must examine the extent to which we encourage our leaders and institutions to embrace change. It is time we all stopped being selfish about the past.

"The Ogorek Letter" with Commentator Anthony Ogorek is a monthly feature of WBFO News. He is operating manager of Ogorek Wealth Management in Williamsville.