Tag Archives: power

Change we can only believe in

carrier5America was founded on change, wasn’t it? Why is it so hard to change now?

Didn’t our fore-parents unabashedly give up their lives in the old world for a new start in a new land? Not really. While some adventurers and liberals came for the promise of a new start and riches in this new land, more came to escape their struggle against the monarchs and entrenched power of the old world or to escape religious persecution. Others came as indentured servants or to escape debtors prison. Many more were forced to come as slaves. Change is hard. Seldom voluntary. Often forced. And, typically, when other choices are worse, or no longer possible.

We like to give lip service that we are open to change, but we fight to our deaths to maintain and protect what is known and comfortable. It is human nature. We will work harder to not to lose something (pick one or more: ❑ money; ❑ power; ❑ possessions; ❑ prestige; ❑ love; ❑ status quo; ❑ beliefs; ❑ big cars ; ❑ guns; ❑ private health insurance; ❑ farm subsidies; ❑ political party affiliation; ❑ immigrant labor; ❑ electoral college; ❑ air and water pollution; ❑ oil subsidies; ❑ import taxes on sugar-based ethanol; ❑ tax cuts for wealthy; ❑ disposable containers; ❑ long patent protection; ❑ no regulation of hedge funds; ❑ no real regulation of Wall Street; ❑ miserly minimum wage; ❑ predatory credit card charges; ❑ alternative minimum tax; ❑ off-shore tax havens; ❑ tax subsidies for highways; ❑ stem cell research; ❑ drilling, mining and timber harvesting in our parks and wilderness areas; ❑ seldom disclosed stock options and exorbitant executive compensation; ❑ policies toward the southern hemisphere; ❑ Cuba policy; ❑ wall at Mexican border; ❑ Predator drones bombing civilians; ❑  independent contractors in war zones; ❑ no-bid Pentagon contracts; ❑ military weapons development we don’t want or will use but are in multiple states protected by Congress; ❑ domestic spying; ❑ exporting weapons; ❑ detention without trial; ❑ torture; ❑ genocide; ❑ nuclear proliferation; ❑ airport security lines; ❑ voter ID cards; ❑ polls only open on Tuesday; ❑ green lawns; ❑ war on terror; ❑ spam, etc.) than to change something, even when it is in our best interest. And the more you have or the longer you’ve had it, the more ferociously you’ll fight.

Our business leaders and politicians know this (so does cable news). They know how easy it is to create a constituency against change than for change. Just play the fear card. Turn on that primal fear of change and logic loses its voice. Facts become suspect. Us against them. Join the mob and kill the monster.

If change is so hard, how does it ever happen since we no longer persecute religious preference, have debtor prisons, monarchs, entrenched power, slavery or the opportunity of a new land? Good question. Coke got rid of sugar just by not telling us. Ditto smaller amounts of potato chips per pack. Digital TV passed because they made it so far in the future that no one cared (the future is here and it is too late to care). Poisonous drugs get removed from the shelf when we find out that enough of us have died. Ditto toxic waste. Election laws changed when enough people took to the streets. It took a war to end slavery and may take another one to end economic slavery. It took the depression to regulate banks, but only took the promise of an unlimited expansion to deregulate them. It took Al Gore to give us the internet, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to get us computers, but it took porn sites, Facebook and Craigslist to get us high speed access. It took Bush and McCain to give us our first non-pink President. And, the almost-great depression to give us the economic prozac of TARP and the stimulus.

I haven’t answered the question of change ever happens. I “believe” change takes some combination of strong leadership; faith; common sense; promised treasure; compromise; luck; timing; spin; good marketing; patience; and the absolute promise of all out voter retaliation. Speaking in April to students in Turkey, President Obama said of change, “States are like big tankers. They’re not like speedboats. You can’t just whip them around and go in another direction. You turn them slowly, and eventually you end up in a very different place.” Have we started turning, yet? It sure looks like we’re heading nowhere.

Suggested Reading:

In the Public Trust

Great Depression

Debates rage in Congress, State Houses and on Cable News over government intrusion on business. Talk of bailouts, nationalizing banks, regulating hedge funds, limiting power companies’ pollution, charging fair grazing fees and mining rights on public lands, direct loans to corporations, pseudo-government corporate ownership, government-sponsored investment funds, companies too-big-to-fail, corporate campaign contributions, limiting offshore tax havens, unfair government competition with cable and telephone suppliers over opening up the broadcast spectrum to free wireless internet to everyone, and unfair government competition with private insurers over universal medical coverage (to name more than a few), has brought labels of socialism, big government and anti-business back to the forefront of popular Google searches. So, what is the role of business vis-a-vis government?

Before there were corporations, there was government. Before government, there were people. Corporations are allowed to exist only because government gives them the standing. Likewise, at least in the US, government is only allowed to exist because of a special pact – a contract, if you will, with the people. We refer to it most often as the Constitution. It is the people, who have inalienable rights. Not government. And certainly not business.

While individuals have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” corporations do not. For much of US history, to create what we now call a corporation, required an act of a state legislature and those charters were closely regulated to protect the public interest (the federal government can only create corporate entities from the powers derived from the Constitution – for instance, Federal Banks). Things changed dramatically in late 20th century as states wishing to attract more “bizness,” loosened regulations (Delaware and Nevada are the most notorious for lack of regulation and where the largest corporations who have not yet gone offshore to escape almost any regulation or taxes, are most likely chartered).

Corporations, when combined with inexhaustible supplies of capital; limited stockholder representation in management; competition between states who would look the other way on regulation in exchange for the hope of jobs and campaign contributions; an inexhaustible supply of workers – legal or otherwise; new manufacturing and distribution methods; the expansion of the patent laws; the proliferation of lobbyists and their perks; the lack of transparency of what they were doing before it was too late; their unlimited budget for lawyers; and the opportunity for profit, lead quickly, of course, to monopolies, aka: cartels (and predatory pricing, price gouging, manipulation of markets by limiting supplies, collusion, discriminatory trade, tort reform, inability to organize workers, fraud, bribery, dangerous products, pollution, more lobbying, George W. Bush, etc.). Nefarious monopolies were first outlawed around 50BC, and in the US in 1894, but the laws are largely ignored here except during times when the majority of the Supreme Court was appointed by Democrats. There are some exceptions to the monopoly law. Most notable are professional sports and public utilities which are supposed to maintain infrastructure for a public service and be closely regulated, but the power to corrupt will always trump good intentions.

By now, your thoughts must be screaming, “when will you get to the point?” How ‘bout I skip the rest of the civics lesson and offer it now? Our government need not protect an industry or corporation’s ability to profit when it is contrary to the public trust. Government needs to do what’s good for the people. Practical examples:

• We’ve gone to digital television to open up the underutilized television broadcast spectrum. Our so-called public utilities (cable, satellite providers, wired and wireless phone companies and power companies – okay, not all in this list are still public utilities) want to own this spectrum so they can continue to do what they do best: provide as little service as possible while charging us as much as possible. Problem is, this bandwidth (and about a billion dollars or so, some cooperation/mergers and some maintenance) could provide internet access for everyone and the enhanced internet could be used to replace all cell and television service saving the people hundreds of billions every year. What is in the public good?

• US employers need to be more globally competitive, yet the cost of providing employee heath insurance is among their greatest expense. The number of uninsured in the US is about 50 million and rising. As a society, we pay for care anyway through indigent care expenses, lost productive and taxed wages, and early death of the uninsured. The problem is that we have the health insurance industry and they have lobbyists. Ditto the unions. Ditto big-pharma. Now ask yourself, what’s in the public good? Maintaining a vibrant health insurance industry, helping executives and union members have extravagant health plans and allowing the drug companies to overcharge? Or, making business more competitive and everyone more healthy at a lower cost?

• Admittedly, any regulation of hedge funds would make them less competitive with the criminals in other countries and it may mean that some of these imaginary deals will end up being made offshore, but since they do absolutely nothing to positively improve the human condition short of enriching the schemers themselves, is it really in the public good that they should do whatever they want and answer to no one when the result of this practice so far, has led to financial ruin of hundreds of millions? Ask yourself if government would be acting in the public trust to keep this unregulated (which they are now) or even under-regulated, which any lobbyist-inspired Congressional compromise would surely render?

• Admittedly, the financial industry funds more campaign contributions and lobbyists than any other group; likewise, community giving, and we’d miss that for a while. But clearly history has shown us that the FDIC can take over, fix and re-privatize a bank without anyone suffering, other than the executives and shareholders who took the failed risks and should be responsible. What is in the public good of doing otherwise?

• In your wildest dreams, does anyone believe that power companies with investments in dirty coal (Georgia Power comes to mind) will ever reduce their pollution unless forced to or incented to? Yes, it would cost their customers some money through increased rates. Money that companies in states with public regulation have long ago paid. But just to top it off, please note that Georgia Power’s lobbyist just bribed the legislature to pass an increase in rates for a fictitious nuclear reactor they pretend they are going to build 10 years from now even though no reactor has been licensed in the US in more than 20 years. Scandalous, for sure. In the public interest? Not.

Government must be for the people. Not for the corporations.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” –Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776. ME 1:29, Papers 1:315