Friday, July 15, 2011

Can We Save America From Ourselves?


Sancho, I see an Impossible Dream!
America has always embraced the entrepreneur, the Don Quixote and his formidable windmill, the David ‘sling-shotting’ his Goliath. We cheer his or her efforts as they attempt to reach their impossible dream and conquer their mammoth goal. The underdog fighting ridiculous odds.  And to some extent we still do. But something has changed over the years.
No I don’t mean we now root for the dreamers to fail, although there are undoubtedly some who do but they are in the minority. And you may still be assured of a path being paved to your door when you perfect that new mousetrap.
What has changed is the attitude of the entrepreneur himself.
While the public is still in awe of success and everyone still loves a winner the winners no longer seem to care about their public.
Okay obviously any new business enterprise still needs customers to pay for that which they produce but believe it or not the customer isn’t the most important part of the equation anymore.
The Alice's Restaurant of Drugs
When America was young someone would open an apothecary and people would flock to purchase items they needed, or browse, or just to say hi. The store owner became a part of the community and living among his customers became family. When a family member was in trouble the brothers would chip in to help. The formula worked for all involved and success was measured not by the size of the bank account but by the number of lives touched and the friendships cultivated.
Of course no one was na├»ve enough to believe that profits didn’t matter or that that whole bottom line thingy was wasn’t important it just wasn’t that important!
But the corner drug store is nearly extinct replaced by the ubiquitous, faceless chain of a million links. The family doctor is as rare as a unanimous vote in Congress and business ethics well let’s just say they’ve gone the way of the American buffalo. And I wouldn’t give you a nickel for them.
But before we blame the business owner for blindly climbing up the wealth ladder of success we must look at the whole picture. The environment has made it necessary for him to step on former friends to do so. The financial landscape of this country has been reshaped, eroded if you will into one of huge peaks and tremendously deep valleys. And while some may think it was easy to see it coming it was nevertheless impossible to stop. Like a heavy freight train careening down the tracks at breakneck speed it would need time to slow down let alone change direction.
The moment of conception was when one business owner realized he could replace a trained, trusted and loyal worker with five eager new employees overseas and pocket some cash. He could train the new employees, communicate with them despite the time difference, and have 24/7 coverage while still saving money! Americans suffered but who the hell cared?
Soon he replaced another and another and before long the bulk of his work force was from Asia, his ethics from hunger and his profit margins from the pages of Fortune Magazine.
His strategy and success caused his competitors to take note and in order to keep pace they joined the Orient express.
It became a “lead, follow or get out of the way” situation and before anyone could say high unemployment ‘Made in China’ had taken over as the most common label in America.
Wall St. Investors know a good thing when they see one and they rewarded the newly non-American businesses with fists full of cash with which to continue their business practices.
And the more Americans they fired, I mean laid off, the better the investment community liked them. This was famously noted when the stock price of IBM soared after the company divested itself of over 5,000 workers. It soared again when they dumped another 5,000 Americans prompting many to conclude that if they got rid of everyone but the CEO the stock price would rise to infinity!
You might think that the government would put the brakes on this seemingly unpatriotic practice. But you also might be accused of not paying attention. No tariffs or punishments of any kind were meted out and the flow of foreign goods into the country was equaled only by the flow of cash flying out.
At that point no one could seriously blame the board of directors of any large corporation for following suit lest they lose their share of the business. Remember that lead-follow-fall into obscurity thingy rearing its ugly head again.
And as the internet became easier and speedier a seamless “flat Earth” spawned a new normal. Customer service calls were now routinely answered by people from India and another few thousand Americans went from bread winners to bread lines.
Overall wealth in America remained fairly constant but the distribution was lopsided and top heavy. CEOs were raking in cash and record profits. Investment brokers and hedge fund managers gave new meanings to the word obscene wealth as their income grew out of sight. What exactly did they do for society again?
And once again the government chose not to act instead rewarding the people who were killing the American Dream with huge tax gifts. Billions in profits were instead taxed at ridiculously low rates with loopholes rendering even those rates laughable.
The money being shoveled into the already overstocked coffers was now eagerly being spent not on new employees or benefits for the current ones but on lavish gifts for the same lawmakers who kept the playing field tilted in their direction. “K Street” supplanted Main Street as the most important address in the lives of the wealthy businessman.
Some may call that practice bribery but truthfully the wealthy were just the paying for services rendered.
Football can thank Vince Lombardi for the phrase, “winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s the only thing!” but multi-national corporations scored big using it as their mantra.
And when the small business owner or entrepreneur saw how the big boys were doing it they followed suit. Now when a business grows large enough the workers are asked to do more and more for less and less. They are told to be thankful to have a job. Unfortunately without a champion in DC they realize they realize they are swimming upstream and acquiesce.
But in the long run if you don’t pay your workers a living wage then you cannot expect them to purchase the items you produce. Even Henry Ford, anything but a workers’ advocate knew the value of a fair wage when he said (sic) “I pay my workers more so they can afford to buy my cars!”
So can things change?
Can the genie be coaxed back into the bottle?
Would you go back in if you were him?
The only way for this country to change its current path toward destruction is for Congress and the President to act and act as one. They must force the issue.
The two factions fighting are as usual on opposite sides but they must realize that if the American ship of state goes down they will go down with it.
“Cut spending.” “Raise revenue.” “No cut spending.” “No raise revenue.” “Drop Dead!” “No, you drop dead!”
The argument is ridiculous and disingenuous. Spending is out of control but taxes are outrageously low, especially on that top 2%. Wisdom, something that appears to be missing from all sides these days, must be used to find a solution. If we cut off funding for our elderly while continuing to bestow the lowest tax rates in history upon the wealthiest we will lose the game.
Some Middle Class Americans still want the wealthy to get wealthier in the hopes that when they will join their ranks they will enjoy the same freedom from taxes. They are, to put it politely delusional. They will never make it into the top 2% without winning a lottery because the game is rigged.
The rich and powerful no longer meet on golf courses. The new high profile hideout is Davos or some exclusive resort in the Pacific Northwest. And if you are reading this you need not apply for membership as admission is by invitation only and you ain’t invited!
So is the American Dream now an impossible one?
Am I tilting at windmills?
Perhaps!
But with the same spirit that pushed our first settlers to the pacific coast and 20th century man to the moon I continue to sling shots at Goliath in the hopes others will join the fight and make our country great again.
In a way I am an entrepreneur. Except I have no employees, only partners, 300,000,000 of them!

3 comments:

Cousin Bruce said...

From a friend in Houston comes this very wordy comment:

"Why?!"


One can only reply with one answer truly - "Because?!"

Thanks to Edith W.

Deirdra Eden-Coppel said...

Good insight.

You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you the Brilliant Writer Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
~Deirdra

Cousin Bruce said...

What a nice comment! I am beside myself reading it - And both of us are happy you enjoy my thoughts.
Thank you Deirdra! (I always did like that name.)