The economy

Published 4:19 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Here we sit in an economic recovery that appears to be very sluggish in a time of broad-based corporate profits leaving their coffers full of cash. One financial report that I read implied that investors were still punishing any company that wanted to use the cash to make capital improvements. The result of this restraint and negativism is that it holds down job growth, keeps consumer spending low and hurts our international competitiveness as expansion occurs in other countries.
This seems to just be another example of our “weak-knee” financial culture that has developed over the last 40 years. Wonder what ever happened to that independent-minded, entrepreneurial-spirited business leader? With the exception of Warren Buffett, they all seem to be in hiding and whining about the political environment. What a shame. Politics has always been politics but now we have the internet with its ability to spread information, truth and fiction, at the speed of light. The problem is that too many (including college educated folks) don’t know the difference. It’s also disappointing to see people accept simple ideology in place of thought and rationality just because it’s on the internet.
One of the few benefits we get from a recession/depression is the restructuring and re-alignments that occur in businesses as they discard the old for the new. This usually results in better opportunities for companies and the human beings that make it happen. This same public psychology kept us from having a decent recovery from the last recession and it seems to be in play this time too. Do you think that the “elite power players” could be manipulating the economy for political or ideological reasons? Surely not! That would not only be cruel but terribly unpatriotic.
So what is keeping our businesses from assuming leadership on the world stage? I think the best description I’ve heard is “uncertainty”. Given that absolute certainty about anything is not attainable, it must be the level of uncertainty. In my experience, the one thing that causes more uncertainty in people’s lives than anything else is change. Quite frankly, nobody likes change for change’s sake. Even logical and positive change causes uncertainty.
Throughout my entire adult working life, I have constantly heard from the business leaders and Wall Street crowd that “We must change to stay competitive”. It has become a mantra of the US business community that change is constant and rapid. It has been embedded into the culture of the working people that this change is the reason that their jobs/careers are eliminated or that they must spend their retirement to re-train and take on new career paths. Change, Change, Change! We now have a workforce that expects constant change and has accepted the uncertainty of their futures and the hardship it brings.
It took 30 years of “preaching & propaganda” from the business leadership to change the culture but it seems that what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander. We are in a business climate where much has changed. Manufacturing is no longer guaranteed to be more cost effective by just moving it overseas where labor is cheap. The “service economy of the 80’s” has caused a decline in the quality of life for most Americans and the best we are told is to expect more of the same. The free-wheeling, unregulated environment from 2001 – 2008 has come to a screeching halt and the budget surpluses that were there are now daunting deficits. (“Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my.”) And now our business leaders seem to have turned into “Chicken Littles” (“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”). The rapid changes of the last couple of years seem to have frozen all our brilliant business leaders in their tracks. The only response we get is that there is too much uncertainty…yada, yada, yada….
So here we are in a polarized political environment where the emotions are running high and the finger pointing is epidemic. Do you think it’s possible that we all now expect change to happen overnight because we’ve been “indoctrinated?” And when it doesn’t, it must be the other guys fault because he has the wrong ideology or religion? Personally, I think that everybody should put on their big boy/girl pants and get over it. We’ve got major problems and a lot of uncertainty but we’ve got major opportunities. It’s not risk free. Let’s accept that challenge, dig in our heels and get on with it. We are our own future. Let’s make sure it’s a good one.
Rodney Gibson is the former Mayor of Saluda.

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