Friday, August 15, 2014

Another one

So, here I am again, writing.  This time it's about our delusional ideals about corporate morality.

Corporate morality doesn't really exist insofar as what it means to have morals as an individual.  Corporations, at their core, are supposed to produce profits for their shareholders.  Sure, there are companies out there who are doing the right thing, and producing profits at the same time (we will delve into those later in this talk).  But, for the most part, corporations are built to be money producing machines.  So, they will do whatever they think they can get away with to produce bigger and bigger profits.  That's what they're designed for, and that is what they should be doing.  Why?  Why shouldn't we ask for, nay, demand corporate morality from the corporations themselves?  I will tell you.

For most things, I want the government to provide minimal service, and then get out of the way - especially on the issue of individual morality.  Schools and libraries I am OK with, telling me how to live is another thing.  However, on the issue of corporate morality, that responsibility should rest on the government.  Here's why:  the capitalist system our country's economic system is based on is one that rewards money-makers.  That's it in it's simplest form.  To try to tell corporations that they need to come up with their morals to stick to that may hinder profits is like trying to tell a gasoline engine that solar is better for the environment and it should just run on that.  It doesn't work.  It was not designed to work.  It shouldn't work.  Capitalism is supposed to cut costs, reduce overheads, run out inefficiencies, and, in the end, make money.  The weak need to die, and the strong should survive and thrive - within limits.  Those limits are exactly what we have government for.

Government, elected by the people, and acting for the people, should put measures in place to keep this capitalist machine from running off the tracks.  They should define the limits and set the boundaries by which these corporations operate.  Corporations are free to choose their own path within that system, to innovate, and come up with new ways to challenge these boundaries.  When boundaries are challenged, or when the capitalist system has developed an entirely new way to make money, then government should redefine the boundaries in order to reign in the monster.

The reason government should be the ones making the rules is because they are the ones elected by the people.  Shareholders, on the other hand, are not.  Let me phrase it this way:  Do you have a 401(k)?  TSP?  IRA, education fund, mutual fund, ETF, stocks?  What do want from those things?  Why do you put your money there?  Because you want it to grow, right?  Guess what?  You are a shareholder and you are trying to make money.  If your investment didn't, you would take it out and put it somewhere that does.  Most people don't REALLY know what their 401(k) or IRA or mutual fund is invested in.  You don't care.  If you cared, you would know.  So, who should be looking out for the morals of our capitalist economy?  The government, as a proxy for the people.

But, you say, there are corporations that are good and operate based on not just profits.  First of all, I say good for them.  It's wonderful to see that in an environment that is organized to reward profits.  Second of all, I would say that usually those corporations are led by an idealistic founder that founded the company to do more than just make profits.  When that person is no longer in the picture, then what happens.  There are some that have been able to pull it off over multiple generations, but only a handful.  Once a company goes public and has a board, the push to make profits usually overtakes other goals the company may have once had.  It's possible to have a multi-generational profitable moral corporation, but it is rare and very, very difficult.

What about the government?  I wouldn't consider this government moral, doesn't that invalidate your argument?  Well, yes... and no.  The government as it exists today is a result of allowing too much corporate influence in the government, instead of vice-versa.  Right now, the government regulates the corporations and the corporations buy governmental elections.  Then they have powerful influence in the workings of the government.  That is a problem, because again, we did not elect these corporations or their shareholders.  What we need to do is keep those corporations from buying elections.  Sounds simple, but it is very complex, and would take a lot of work on the part of a lot of people to fundamentally change the structure of financing a campaign.  I think it should be a part of our taxes (corporate ones included), and each candidate gets an even slice of the pot to spend on campaigns.  And that's all they get.  They have vast financial resources with which to run a campaign?  Too bad.  In fact, all "vacations" or "business trips" are to be stopped after you throw your hat into the ring.  If campaigning takes place before the hat is thrown in, then you will not be allowed to run and the slice of pie assigned to you is reabsorbed into the government to be held until next elections.  Take a dime from anywhere but that slice and use it for campaign and then are elected, go straight to jail.  Do not pass Go.  Believe in a candidate?  Want to support their bid?  Go out and volunteer.  Tell all of your buddies about them.  Help spread the word in your off-time.  There are many ways to help out that aren't just financial.  That's just my two cents, but I am happy to discuss details or alternatives with anyone.

Bottom line, corporations aren't "evil" because they do what it takes (within the law) to make profits.  They are merely following within the boundaries set by their regulating body - the government.  And that is the way it should work.  Unfortunately, the government is not operating properly, and therefore everything else is struggling.  Our political leaders should also be our moral leaders which is why it's hard to back the ones that have scandals (drugs, affairs, etc).  They should be held to a higher standard.  We also need to realize that they are human, and allow them to slip up now and then (if the crime isn't too serious and they immediately own up to it and work to correct it).  It is a hard balance to define, but I believe that someone will eventually find that definition.  In the end, though, if we want to fix "corporate morality", then we need to fix "government morality".

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I know it has been a long time since I wrote, and I don't know if anyone still reads this, but I know that I must write.

Tonight, my daughter and I watched "Lincoln".  It was not my first time seeing it, nor will it be my last, as I am a big Lincoln fan and have been since I can remember.  The movie reminded me what we are missing in politics nowadays, and that is heart.

Had Lincoln not had it, the 13th Amendment would not have passed, and who knows what would have come next.  More wars?  Would we still have slavery?  I'd like to think we would have eradicated it further down the line, but I can no more speculate on that than I can on how many people are going to read this.  I just don't know.  I do know that Lincoln changed the landscape.  Not just because he wanted his name in the history books (which is something I would think a man this ambitious would be looking for), but because it was the right thing to do.  He knew slavery to be wrong, he knew it from a young age.  He also knew that the country stood a reasonable chance to war again if the issue was not fixed once and for all.  He was also tired and ready for the controversy to be over, so that he could get on with the business of pushing agendas and supporting his party like other Presidents did.  I think all of those things had to motive this hero of a man.

What can we learn here when we look toward our current political battlefield?  How can we fix what has been done in Washington?  Everything is a sound bite, no one reads past the headlines, and we don't care what it does to our fellow American.  After the movie, I asked my daughter what she thought, and she told me she had never really thought of history in that way.  I asked what could be taken from this and she said that Lincoln took the first step in giving blacks their shot at the American Dream.  The next steps, of course, would have to wait a century to take.  I asked her if she had a notion of what the American Dream was.  The answer was very telling as to what is wrong in this country today.  She said that it was the family, house, car, you know, the white picket fences.  Nothing weird about that, except that she followed it with, "Like I care."  I asked her what she meant by that statement.  She said that she wouldn't be able to get that anyway.  I asked why she thought that.  She said that our family is poor (which, to a degree, we are) and because of that, she is also doomed to poverty.  And there it is.  The generation after mine has given up on obtaining the American Dream because they feel it is impossible.

What does that say about our political leaders?  Our moral leaders?  Our economic ones?  Where are they when my daughter thinks that the American Dream is impossible for her?  I don't hear anyone talking about this one, saying how they can fix it.  Think back 60 years.  American industry was humming.  People went to school and got the world's best public education.  Then they could go on to college or trade school for low cost.  Then, they would go out and get a good paying job.  When American industry had to compete with the world, they knew that they were the best the world had to offer, and that they would figure out a way to make it work.  When a child went to school, they knew they could grow up to do and be anything.  Everyone believed in the American Dream and worked for it.  Something happened.  I cannot pinpoint it, but at some point, we shifted.  College is expensive.  Our public education system is a mess.  Our children don't believe in the future.  Our businesses come up with crazy schemes to try to remain profitable in a world that is increasingly beating them in business.  Our jobs pay less now than they did a generation ago.  Our country has some issues, to say the least.

I don't want to sound like one of those who now hates his country and wants to just rag on it at every turn.  We are getting things right.  Our GDP is the most that any country in history has ever seen.  We are producing more in this country than at any other period in history.  We aren't what we used to be, but we are still better than anyone out there.  It's no longer by a longshot, though.

What can we do about it?  First of all, we can care.  Take up some heart, and forget about winning for a minute.  What if, we sat down and had dialogue?  Not just with the cronies on Capitol Hill, but with the American people?  What if we stopped labelling each other "Republican" and "Democrat" and started looking at them as fellow human?  What could we accomplish then.  There are some funamental policy disagreements out there.  But, instead of letting them get us angry and cloud our judgement, why we sit back and listen to what the other side has to say?  We can then address our concerns, and maybe, just maybe, we start to understand each other's goals.  Maybe then, we will see that they aren't so different from one another's.  We need to recognize that opposing points of view are not only OK, but they are awesome!  They allow us to discover a whole new way of looking at a problem.  And I am not talking about what I regularly see on the internet ("Your idea sucks because you're a racist" or "You're a socialist").  No.  I am talking about a well thought out and reasonable debate.  Based on some research.  A valid, affirming discourse on what could be a solution to a problem that will not just go away by brute force.  Those with a different viewpoint aren't idiots, they're fellow Americans.

Secondly, we can ensure freedom first.  The American Civil War was bloody.  Half a million Americans dead bloody.  Neighbors killing each other bloody.  You know how many died in the most recent Iraqi and Afghani wars?  A few thousand.  Not even on the same planet for bloodshed.  You know what they died for?  Freedom.  They died so that the slaves could be free.  When soldiers go into battle?  They don't go for "safety" or "security".  They go for freedom.  So in every case where we can give people the freedom of choice, I say we do.  We have become so scared of things that might happen, that we restrict everyone from having choice.  Freedom.  That should remain our first priority.

Third, we need education.  And not just about math.  We need to really show history for what it is.  Storytelling.  We need to get our best authors and movie-makers on this.  My daughter thought "Lincoln" was a good movie.  Because it told a great story.  She saw it not for some boring history thing, but for a story about a man overcoming great odds, great grief, and great sadness to do something, well - great!  We need more of those stories told in our schools, and not by textbook writers, but by great storytelling writers.  We also need to teach people in our schools statistics (yes, I know that is math).  Not so they can crunch numbers, but so they can see how those numbers can be crunched in different ways to mean different things.  We need to teach them that one source of information almost consistently provide the whole picture and that you need to read several sources to find out what's really going on.  We need to teach them that a sound bite is just that - a bite.  It doesn't even come close to showing the whole picture and it needs to be taken in context so that you know what a person is saying.  We need to show that a headline is just an attention grabber and is not necessarily indicative of what the article is about.  And we need to teach them English.  If they cannot communicate in a way that anyone outside outside of their age group can understand, then they are going to be lost when it comes to making decisions based on what they have heard/read/seen.  Since you have to know it to become a citizen of this country, you should have to know it to BE a citizen of this country.  By the way, we should make you pass the citizenship test at age 18 to have full citizenship rights.  Otherwise, here's your "Green Card", and if you would like a say in the way the country's going, then you need to apply to be a citizen (just like every immigrant from another country has to do - or at least should).  But I digress.  The point is, we need to make education cool, fun, and (the key) relevant so that kids will pay attention.

If we can do these things, I am not sure that it will solve all of our problems, but at least we'll be on the path the Founding Fathers put us on.  And that's the path I want to walk down.