We do! Imagine!
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Charles Dickens
The rules of the game have changed so dramatically in the last few months that many if not most CEOs and heads of financial institutions and beleaguered out-dated manufacturing companies like The Big Three auto manufacturers don't have a clue what to do when they report to work each day. Their paradigm is obsolete.
The fiasco at the Congressional Big Three bailout hearings last week wasn't just that the CEOs couldn't figure out a way to jet pool there or horror of horrors drive one of their cars. They didn't even know how much to ask for or how it would be spent. Even my teenage daughters know how to put a number to a financial request and say what it's for.
CEOs are trained to know about financial matters, but the training they have has little to do with how to grow a company productively in today's competitive, fuel and environmentally conscious world especially with the world wide financial crisis.
Sure Michael Jordon was a great basketball player, but he wasn't much of a baseball player and his golf game gambling cost him a lot of money. Michael Jordon can afford his sports dalliances and they are victimless endeavors. But we can't afford CEOs, who may be stars in the Casino Economy, to be failures in our economy. We are the victims of their greedy crimes against humanity. And ironically so are they as long as they cling to the past.
Thanks to deregulation, our economy and the world economy has been dominated by a Casino Economy for several decades. See my economic historian father Doug Dowd's website at www.dougdowd.org.
Some of the most successful hedge funds and short traders have made a killing by betting on the downturn or even demise of companies that must be productive for a healthy economy. We live in a destructive, opportunistic Casino Economy totally dominated by "new instruments" like derivatives.
Many of the CEOs and top management came into power because of leveraged buyouts or saw their power rise due to leveraged expansion. Corporate debt is staggering and it is all based on the rosiest of predictions, which is often not even their primary concern. That's the next management team's problem -- they'll be long gone before the shit hits the fan. Until now.
For them, business as usual is the same as in Vegas. "Can I have another marker?" More debt. Although attention is often focused on personal and government debt, personal debt and government debt historically follow corporate debt, not the other way around. In a healthy productive economy, government and personal debt diminish dramatically. Many if not most our financial bean counters truly don't understand the long term potential of their own companies. The film "Who Killed the Electric Car" is a dramatic example of GM's short-think, and in turn, self-destructive mentality. IBM missed out on being at the front of the PC revolution even though the best and the brightest of their own employees urged them to get into it. It took guys in garages like Jobs and Woz, and Bill Gates and Paul Allen to launch it. Some of this can be attributed to large companies not being nimble, but it's also about an atmosphere that rarely rewards innovation that may take a few years to show on the books. R&D is kept in a business as usual bubble.
That might be fine if there were no competition, but consumers will find what suits them best not what they are told to buy, especially the most sought after consumers -- the younger generation. Toyota is beating the pants off of Detroit because they have used a strategy they call "look see" when they go out and meet the people and then produce a product the people actually want. The latest Republican myth they are pushing is that lower pay to workers in right to work states allows Toyota to be profitable. In truth Toyota was doing just fine before they ever opened a plant in America. And auto workers in Detroit don't make too much or have unreasonable benefits -- they just make enough to get by with their families and have their health care and retirement covered. If health care was covered the way it is by all other industrial countries (without profiteering) then that would allow companies, big and small, to be relieved of that burden and be more competitive and make better products.
Like sports coaches and managers, corporate execs are all about the short term. For a coach it is about making the playoffs and hopefully winning the Super Bowl or you are out of there. For a CEO it is about quarterly profits and at best yearly profits. They are more like managers than entrepreneurs. Building a competitive company for the Twenty First Century would mean a revolutionary re-think and training as when basketball introduced the jump shot or a football team started to pass the ball instead of just sticking with the running game.
Since we are all reflecting on the Great Depression, Stanford's Hank Luisetti became the first basketball player to score 50 points on January 1, 1938 against Duquesne when he surprised them with his revolutionary new jump shot. The rest is history as the teams (read companies) and the thrilled fans (read consumers) all followed suit.
Right down the road from Stanford at Google they have a new paradigm and workplace atmosphere that encourages innovation. Their product and the company seem to be doing quite well. I'd sooner let the folks from Google take over one of the Big Three then let present the management team stay on. Those frauds can learn a new skill on Google. Indeed, the Google team has been helping my friend Neil Young with his 1959 Lincoln Continental (a veritable steamship and the heaviest car in the world that year) which thanks to Wichita gear-head Jonathan Goodwin and his team now gets sensational mileage. Take a lesson Detroit. We can convert most existing cars with kits. See neilyoung.com then clickLincvolt. Neil is 63 and still rocking the free world.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman, de-regulation guru and uber promoter Alan Greenspan told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: "Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders' equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief."
No shit Sherlock! That's the point. Too many people in the financial and corporate world have little if any loyalty to their own companies, let alone their country or the planet.
So much money has been made by the packagers (investment bankers, bond sellers, attorneys, wheeler dealers and corporate execs) on IPO's, leveraged buyouts, mergers and acquisitions that it is an afterthought to look out for the company's future. It's naive to believe that most people making a killing in the Casino Economy will be overly concerned with a company's long term viability or collateral damage they inflicted any more than an unemployed ghetto kid, who makes a money dealing drugs, thinks about the long term consequences.
As my dear friend Waldo Salt, the Academy Award winning screenwriter, used to say: "It's the chair not the man." Change the societal goals and people will do the right thing.
So it's time to change the chair and the game plan. It's time for a dramatic game-changer -- a new game. I would call that revolutionary change. Just like when you change your diet in a revolutionary way after a heart attack that sends you to the ER. In England doctors get paid more for using preventative medicine. In America businessmen should get bonuses for innovation not financial manipulation (which we pay for now more than ever). The bailouts are even being put on our yet to be conceived children's credit cards as well as our children's. I think we can do better.
We have the opportunity to have a productive economy with a new generation of exciting new products like iPods and electric trains and even mass transit that is actually relaxing, productive while traveling and even fun -- with the added attraction of our planet being a more desirable place to live in the near future as well as for future generations.
This is real security. The false security of massive amounts of accumulated wealth is an illusion. Even the absurdly rich CEOs, who drank the Casino Kool-Aide, have most likely had their life expectancy diminish recently and many of their kids think of them as arrogant fools. Some security!
What about security for the rest of us -- the middle class and the under class? For those who were brilliantly manipulated (by financial Karl Rove-like wheeler dealers and all their advertising) into corporate pension plans, 401k's, money markets, hedge funds and certain stocks that are evaporating into the Casino smokestack, it is an urgent problem. As it is for those who bought homes with loans that the banks assured them were okay and often coerced them into. Then the banks shamefully didn't attempt to re-negotiate the loan terms which would and still could be in the banks, homeowners, taxpayers and our country's own self-interest. Placing so much blame on home buyers for the financial collapse is myopic. That's like blaming a crack habit solely on the user. It is the new financial instruments like derivatives and credit swaps, which have an uncanny resemblance to the multiple bets at a Vegas craps table on acid that accelerated the debt crisis thanks to the Wall Street wheeler dealers fanatically pushing them. Ironically many of them have a big cocaine habit as anyone who knows Wall Street can testify.
For the rising unemployed--the problem is urgent. For those caught in our so-called heath care system (as I was last year) the problem is urgent. On and on it goes--education, transportation -- you name it.
I believe Obama and his administration and the "Yes We can" mandate will allow us to have the opportunity to free ourselves from the Casino Economy's web of self-destruction. But for that to happen, democracy means involvement from us all as both Michelle and Barack Obama so eloquently remind us. It means more than occasionally voting. It means getting involved at work and in our communities.
As Robert Mauer writes in his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life The Kaizen Way: "Japanese corporations have long used the gentle technique of kaizen to achieve their business goals and maintain excellence. Now this elegant strategy can help you realize your personal dreams."
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step." --Lao Tzu
Right now we are in the financial ER with a bailout of the week to keep the financial giants like AIG and CitiGroup afloat because they are supposedly too big to topple. The Big Three are on deck. The big question is "Who's next and at what cost?" And "Will this bring change or more of the same?" So far there have been few strings attached to the billions of dollars of bailouts and the ones that are seem to be made of silly putty. We are enabling CEO Casino addicts with more Casino crack. Bloomberg News and NBC Evening News just reported that it looks like so far the US taxpayers are on the hook for about 7 trillion dollars of financial bailouts and backstops. And we've only just begun. While the rest of us are on the verge of singing that old Depression era refrain: "Brother can you spare a dime."
Even if the contagious, lumbering behemoths who brought us the Casino Economy survive temporarily thanks to the financial bailout ER, what will it take for them not to be toxically and contagiously unhealthy in the future? It's our future...Our children's future...America's future...and the planet's future.
Boeing used to be called the Boeing Transportation Company and even dabbled in mass transit for awhile. The Big Three were all able to quickly convert to making tanks and military vehicles in World War II. Shipyards re-tooled to turn out three Liberty ships a day. This kind of conversion was possible then and still is today with leadership, vision and true economic patriotism which goes well beyond symbolically wearing a flag pin while economically raping your fellow Americans.
Like many of you, I have traveled 200 mph on the hi-speed French TGV (train à grande vitesse) and the new version can go up to 350 mph and it will be on line in the near future. It is safer, more comfortable, much less polluting, much more energy efficient and much quicker than air and car travel. Imagine going from Chicago to Cincinnati, New York to Washington or Los Angeles to San Diego in an hour with even a quick suburban stop. Or do you prefer driving through traffic jams to an airport, security checks, delays and American air roulette with the under-staffed, over-worked, technologically handicapped air-traffic control system we now have? Or maybe you prefer sitting in the San Diego Freeway/ slow moving parking lot for several hours between LA and San Diego. FYI, the MAGLEV, or magnetic levitation Japanese train has been clocked up to 361 mph. It relies on magnetic suspension rather than wheels--yet another exciting possibility to explore. The Jetsons laid it out in a cartoon decades ago.
I speak on a lot of American campuses. Believe me when I say that up until the Obama campaign, they were very concerned about their future. Not only their economic survival but their mental future -- they were concerned about "dying of terminal boredom" at work.
Now a whole new generation is ready, willing and able to get on board re-building the world. They aren't cynical. They believe: "Yes We Can!" There are so many older people, who are well-educated and skilled, but doing the wrong jobs making the wrong products or often shuffling bureaucratic paper that is nonessential and produces nothing. That's if they still have a job. They want change and they want it now. What about all the knowledgeable and often bored retirees? Imagine how they could pitch in some of the time.
Every problem is indeed a great opportunity. We need a very specific five year plan and a ten year plan. Not the kind V.I. Lenin talked about. We need one that is in the Spirit of America while recognizing that we are in a global economy. We need a long term, always flexible strategy, not a knee jerk tactic of the day, week or quarter that Wall Street, big conglomerates, and Washington, D.C. dump on us when they are not constipated. What team doesn't have a game plan for the next game and for the season?
The good news is that hundreds of millions of Americans are ready to contribute. The solutions already exist to solve most of our problems somewhere at home or on our planet. But it will take a new "revolutionary" approach to allow America to be what it can be and what we want it to be. Like the Velvet Revolution it can be bloodless and invigorating. Just imagine looking forward to going to work or a community meeting.
For the record -- we are talking about more freedom not less. We now have an opportunity to have more freedom at the work place to be innovative and more freedom from our government that now enables the Casino Economy and even goes to war in the name of freedom and security to preserve an out-dated ideology and fear based mentality. We need a new kind of freedom that brings with it real security. That's life as it should and can be.
I prefer the other Lenin -- John Lennon's approach in "Imagine."
"You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one"
"Yes We Can!"
"If we build it they will come!"
Let's make it the best of times!
The Dude Abides!