Regular Joe and Jo-ettes don't spend enough time thinking about how federal policy shapes their lives on a day-to-day basis. Even in good times, most people are just too busy trying to keep their heads above water and makin' a wave when they can -- and these times are far from being Dyn-o-mite.
And if you can connect those dots you might see how I could end up at a high-end conservative activist Tea Party at the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park hotel during an Executives' Club of Chicago panel discussion on "The Impact of Washington's Decisions on the U.S. Economy."
Usually Executives' Club events are moderate affairs -- clubby, business-focused and a little tepid -- but Wednesday afternoon there was fiery, anti-government passion on display. And in the audience, more than a few jaws hanging open.
For instance David Chavern, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, declared that 2008 had been the slowest legislative year in decades but 2009 had immediately launched us into the most pressing core issue debates of our time where "business is the problem and government is the solution." He went on to predict that 2010 will be "the mother of all tax years."
Chavern handed the mic off to Norman Bobins, Chairman of The Private Bank & PrivateBancorp, who ripped the government's post-Lehman Brothers failure efforts to avert another Great Recession. "I do not believe we need more regulation or legislative oversight from Congress," he said, struggling with his prepared notes. "We don't need that level of micromanagement -- too much regulation will only drive people out of the system, not make things better and it'll lead to another meltdown."
Bobins was downright meek compared to William Doyle, fertilizer giant PotashCorp's President and Chief Executive Officer. Doyle offered that "Washington can't see a cornfield and has lost sight of how a truly efficient organization operates," and that "the current presidential administration is too focused on special interests to prioritize the country's urgent needs."
The rest of the discussion -- with the exception of former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson's thoughtfully moderate comments -- pretty much went on in that same "we're not going to name names, but you know who's screwing our way of life" fashion.
It was suggested that the 2009 economic stimulus plans were not successful because they didn't drive retail sales as well as the previous administration's tax rebates had. The proposed Waxman-Markey climate change legislation was panned. China was lauded for investing 80% of their economic stimulus on infrastructure in contrast to the 80% the U.S. spent on "social welfare" programs. Downfall via devilish details and economic demise from inflation was predicted.
After about 20 minutes, people got up and started leaving in droves -- both because the hour had grown late and because the angry froth was starting to wear on those in the crowd who generally don't consider unemployment benefits for peons who aren't still making seven-figure salaries "social welfare."
My take-away: if these are the type of business people at the top who think they're going to lead "the American people" out of the gloom and into economic prosperity, I'm afraid us Regular Joes and Jo-ettes are screwed.
It's not that there wasn't truth in some of their complaints. It's not that you don't go to a business networking event expecting to hear captains of industry defend their turf at the expense of federal leadership that's been at the helm for all of seven and a half months.
It's that to say there was no hope on the stage is a tremendous understatement.
"This administration" needs to realize that no matter how hard it tries to be conciliatory, collaborative, and responsive to the needs of some parts of the business community, a lot of big businesses are mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.
None of them really talked about profits or share. No one talked about people in any sense -- not as employees, or as consumers, or even as shareholders -- it was just whining and finger-pointing about all that's wrong with our current fiscal, economic, and monetary policy and the political leadership helming it. No innovative suggestions for how to "right this ship."
These are the doldrums, Joe and Jo-ette, and it's simply no wonder why you don't give a rat's ass about Washington D.C.'s impact on the U.S. -- or Chicago -- economy. Even the people who do care don't have you in mind.
If three representatives comprise any sort of worthwhile sample at all, then what we can glean is that Big Business is not as interested in making big plans or big money with big ideas as they are in blaming Washington D.C. for all that ultimately ails you.
Ain't we lucky we got 'em?
Esther J. Cepeda writes about regular Joes, business, and much, much more on www.600words.com