Thursday, June 9, 2016

Government VS Business

Recently I have come to realize the obvious; we need more cooperation between the business community and our government leaders to solve our nation's problems.  I say obvious, not necessarily because it is an obvious topic of discussion on the airwaves, in print and on social media, but because if one is to look back on most of the great successes which have occurred of late, it is through cooperation that success has been attained.

How did America progress from a country just emerging from the Great Depression to help defeat Hitler and the Nazis during World War 2?  Cooperation from the business community in diverting energy from domestic to war time products as well as the cooperation of the American public to sacrifice a little for the war effort.  And afterwards, when the men returned from war?  Cooperation between the government and educational system to provide skills to the veterans, and then cooperation between government and businesses to provide jobs for those same veterans.

One might say that the explosive growth of the middle class after WW2 was due in large part to such cooperation.  Most people forget that individual and corporate taxes were astronomical by today's standards, yet, whether by design or happenstance, this level of taxation enabled the government to invest in the people of America via education and jobs.  Businesses still thrived, despite the lower profits and individual wealth, because those working employees and customers alike, had money to spend via the education that opened new doors and the livable wages being earned.  I like to call it bottom up economics, a drastic departure from the trickle down theories that became popular in the 1980's.  Certainly there were rich people and poor people, some of that due to the racial and gender discrimination that still existed in the 50s and 60s, but by most measures of quality of life, America reached its apex in those decades following the Great War.

Currently, it would not be fantasy to suggest that the United States is still the best place in which to live and raise a family.  However, by most quality of life standards, education, income, health, life expectancy, etc, we have fallen down the list.

What has changed?

Too much success too fast?  Some might argue that our role in freeing the world from the clutches of evil, and our eventual victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, left us no where to go but down.
Or perhaps we just forgot how we got there?  Cooperation.

To me, the creation of the corporation, that ultimate legal instrument that provides the benefits of success without the responsibilities of failure, began the decline.  Of course, at first, it provided a boon.  Initially, it seduced even those who knew that double digit growth was not sustainable. Cheaper products manufactured off shore produced a bump in revenue, with less labor costs.  The fact that real people were losing their jobs, people who previously purchased the products and services of the corporations, seemed lost on those making the decisions.

The allure of the stock market, and the ability to "earn" millions of dollars just by giving money to those corporations via stocks, again worked for many, became a cog in the evolving wheel that defined the American dream.  But those corporations and the value of that stock was controlled by individuals more interested in making the stock more valuable.  Responsibility to the stock holders was priority one, responsibility to the employees, their families and the communities where they lived fell by the wayside.  

Or maybe, we were cognizant that cooperation was necessary, but forgot that the end result of that partnership was supposed to be the good of all Americans.  Some might say that our current tax system, even the current state of our political system, has resulted in too much cooperation between Big Business and our government leaders to rig the economic system in favor of those holding the cards.  Big trade agreements open up markets, and provide more competition and choice, but are used to justify even more job outsourcing.  New laws that aim to provide health insurance for those who face bankruptcy or death when they get a losing hand in the birth lottery, are used to justify reduced hours for employees by employers who refuse to do the right thing, and then given a pass by the some public servants who should hold them accountable but prefer campaign donations.

Still, I read articles on an almost daily basis about government and business cooperation that results in change for the better.  From fighting malaria in Africa, to providing safe migration routes to true wildlife in western America, there is much to celebrate when government and business cooperate for a positive reason.  And lets not forget the simple tax break which allows charitable contributions and helps millions of Americans attain food, shelter, and medicine when they draw a losing birth lottery hand.

It is all well and good to use eminent domain to justify the removal of poor people from their homes so that a sparkling new casino can be built, if those displaced people are provided with a better opportunity and that community prospers via jobs, improved schools, and safer streets.  But it does not benefit America when the vast majority of the income from that casino finds its way to too few pockets.  Not to mention when the casino fails and the American taxpayer gets the bill via bankruptcy laws that grant forgiveness to the corporation's principals.

As in all partnerships, there should always be a certain amount of tension.  Stories of successful athletic teams with individuals who fought off field abound.  Businesses should be free to manufacture and market products without regulation which strangles incentive, but they also need to be aware that without some restrain, there are those in business who will violate any and all common courtesy for others.  Will do anything, say anything, for money.  The American people need to be protected from these sharks, and so business profitability may suffer a bit in the short run but will be the better for it when those who value money above people are prosecuted.

Conversely, government officials, especially well meaning ones, need to stay focused on regulations that target specific behaviors and actions, and remember that top down approaches should only be the answer in extreme cases.  Regulations that work in New York may not work in Colorado.  Perhaps it would be better if the word "guidelines" came back in vogue.  Leave the specifics to the state and local lawmakers as much as feasible.

I guess, in the end, it is about cooperation that helps others, not just ourselves.  Cooperation that recognizes that sometimes short term sacrifice results in long term productivity.  Cooperation that raises prospects without harming a segment of the population without voice or recourse.  Cooperation that presumes the sharing of power, not exclusivity of it for one side or the other.


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