Sunday, December 31, 2006

Big Business

A Year to Suspend Disbelief - New York Times

AS 2006 recedes and investors ponder another round of amazing events in the business world, one theme keeps recurring. It was a year when truth was more audacious than fiction. A hedge fund loses $6 billion in a week. A chief executive receives an $82 million pension after his company loses billions in shareholder value. A board chairwoman snoops on her fellow directors and journalists. Authorities discover that a throng of executives have spent years shifting stock option dates to fatten already-bulging paychecks.

Not one of these scenes would have been credible had it appeared in a novel. Real life, however, is another matter. And in 2006, investors had to suspend their disbelief almost daily.

What's the matter with Kansas, again. Here are wasteful, incompetent, crooked CEOs with multimillion dollar compensation packages, bonuses, stock options and perks, trashing stockholders, spying on employees and looting their firms. But no one's down on Business as such in the way that they're down on Government as such. And no one takes Jeffrey Skilling, the Enron CEO who wiped out employees' retirement funds by his shenanigans as representative of business people in the way that they take Ward Churchill who, by comparison, got chicken-feed in salary and lecture fees for pretending to be an American Indian as representative of academics.

So why do Americans regard the corporate execs who raid the cookie jar as a few bad apples who don't reflect adversely on Business but jump on crooked politicians and academics as typical of the institutions they represent?

My conjecture is that it comes from a bias against institutions and expertise, and a fantasy picture of business. For all that Enron was in the news, and in spite of the fact that most Americans work for big businesses, when you say "business" to Americans they still imagine Jim Anderson's insurance agency and the little druggist on Main Street. That why W could persuade millions of working class Americans who had no chance of inheriting taxable estates, that the "Death Tax" was a plot against America. Jim wouldn't be able to pass his insurance agency down to Bud and Dobie would never inherit the Gillis grocery store.

Americans aren't pro-business--they're anti-big, anti-institutional and anti-bureaucratic. Even if they buy insurance online and shop at Walmart, "business" still immediately conjures up the the Anderson insurance agency, Gillis grocery and a live voice at the other end of the phone. Government immediately suggests legions of remote, faceless bureaucrats, red-tape, phone-trees, arbitrary regulations and impersonal treatment--the DMV. And politicians who are virtually logical constructions by groomers and trainers out of the data extracted from focus groups--photo-shopped and lip-synching.

Democrats gotta fix this.

1 comment:

~enlightenedpsych2~ said...

It looks like Democrats are going to be given more opportunity to right the wrongs much of the change-fearing Republicans have peddled for decades. I stand as a representative of neither party exclusively but enough is enough and we the people should mean just that. Forget the f----- govt !