Saturday, August 13, 2011

Capital-Citizen Chasm

Tremendous amounts of cash are held by corporations, banks, and these terrible times for nearly all of us. To read tales in the WSJ, FT and so forth, these plutocrats are afraid. They are afraid to invest, lest they not get the maximum possible profit at the minimum risk.

Screw that.

Where is the patriotism of these capitalists? Where is the sense of history of these capitalists? Where is the, well, Christianity, to pick one religion that uses the Golden Rule?

Yeah, yeah, I am overflowing with historic, economic, and philosophic background. The moronically simple-minded chant of the idealized rings loudly. Supply and demand, invisible hand, and other such hooey are theoretical and work only in rare situations. In this world, oligopolies, cartels and small groups of the connected do to the rest of us.

Now in the financial press and even NPR, I'm hearing how delighted company boards and management are at the new, trimmer U.S. workforce. That is, they closed plants, moved production to near-slave-wage countries, and fired as many U.S. managers and workers as they could. Their margins are fatter than ever. Their cash reserves grow. Their literal productivity levels look higher than ever.

Of course, there's a small want here. The U.S. consumer, previously known as employee, is absent. There were a few centuries when our capitalists shared the European view that the true worth of a company was in the number of employees and that putting wages into the hands of American consumers brought it back to the manufacturers and service providers — a circle of economic life, as it were.

From the 17th through 20th Centuries, the rich guys (used to be millionaires and now would be billionaires) bifurcated. The good guys, like the Rockefellers and Carnegies, were moral enough to know when enough was too much. They gave back in spades, and are the model for the current pressure for the very richest to part with half their billions in their lifetimes. They popularized the instant classic ideals that dying rich was a sin (think Matthew 19:24, "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.")

With few exceptions, we are not seeing that today. One startling and refreshing case is Bill Gates of Microsoft. He was a typical greedy, puerile putz, who wanted to rack up the record wealth for the most literal simple-minded reasons until he wed. His Melinda put his head on straight and his feet on the soil we share. Together, they advance the old model of those who have much giving much.

What is it with the Gordon Gekko types elsewhere?

The answers shouldn't surprise. They are the feeblest, most malevolent cosmopolitans that the bad side of capitalism engenders. Those who say that it is a corporation's sole duty to pursue profits and the owners/executives who hide behind shareholders' interest in denying any moral, nationalistic or other duty are at the core.

We need to shame them and act as the throttle they lack. If they did not have meaningful parents, worthy role models, or historic inspiration, they need to hear from humans speaking louder than profit margins.

Let's consider:
  • Our American Revolution received funding from capitalists who cared for fellow citizens, who lived their religious principles, who even risked lives as well as property for common good.
  • Our public libraries — for the education of all and the equal opportunity of knowledge — was seeded by Carnegie grants and perpetuated since.
  • Our vast, if imperfect, garden of public schools, continues to be fostered by capitalists who came from humble homes and wanted to offer the same to others.
  • Our small, but highly influential, group of great foundations are funded from fortunes of industrialists and investors, to find and finance innovation that brings employment and the commonweal.
  • Our universities, greater and lesser, do serve many in the middle class and below through endowments from the uber-wealthy.
What the hell is the matter with the other super-rich?

What's missing here and now is what Bill got with Melinda. The sense of nationhood, of common purpose, of helping others better themselves is the parallel track to rampant capitalism. When we race along in pure capitalism, allowing ourselves to be blinded to the fate of those who actually produce the wealth for us, we are deeply lessened.

The more salient truth is that when companies and individuals do share, all benefit. Sure, it spits in the face of the purest fantasy of free markets and idealized capitalism, but those are artificial and theoretical constructs.

Get with the Program

Back here on planet Earth, those who care for fellow humans, particularly those in the same companies and same nation, are far worthier than those who only maximize revenues. Those with enough nationalism to help their fellow citizens (and consumers) have capital to spend, prosper in many ways. There is real self-interest in helping foster a society devoid of key wants.

Alas in the past couple of decades, we have seen far too many individuals, financial institutions and companies hoarding. They want to transfer even greater percentage of the national wealth to themselves at the expense of the vast majority.

It's not enough to note that they weren't brought up right. The morally and intellectually bankrupt concept that wealth confers right and intelligence and superiority is absurd. Neglecting accidents of birth, quirky fortune, and heavy handed help from relatives and contacts is proof of feeble thought.

We have a POTUS without the moral direction to demand reasoned nationalism of the banks, companies and billionaires. One of our two major political parties is too immoral to risk offending major donors by even asking for fairness.

For the long term, we need the Warren Buffet, Bill/Melinda Gates types in the model of the Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller sorts to speak up. Once you've made obscene fortunes, once you've ensured your very ordinary spawn can pretend they are extraordinary in every way by their inherited power, get to work. Give it up. Give it back. Make America better.

Shorter term, we need a little to a lot of patriotism and practicality here. American workers have long been the most productive anywhere. The successful capitalists need to pay back to them and to the country. Don't squat on the damned dollars. Invest in corporate infrastructure and innovate in technologies. Be selfish for the nation as well as yourself.

Sure, you might be able to make 1% greater return fostering consumerism in India and making sure their citizens can buy your products. What might that say about where your wealth originated? What might that say about the debt you owe this country, allegedly your own?

Consider the two possible messages to shareholders — "We absolutely maximized your ROI and dividends, regardless of what it meant to America" versus "We got you great returns and still made life better for thousands of our U.S. employees."

Honestly, Gekkos, there is no choice here. Get with the program.

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