Wednesday, October 6, 2010

'Trickle down' economics--my version

When I talk to my friends and family in the USA these days, what they say confirms my suspicions that are only heightened each time I read a newspaper or watch the TV news. The American economy is not really getting any better. The economic crisis persists and is becoming chronic. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Small businesses are not making it, and middle-level managers in numerous generic corporations are having a hard time finding a new job if they’re laid off. Average people are paying a fortune for health insurance. I don’t care about the Wall Street numbers—the Dow is up today and down the next—who really cares? Where is its connection to reality? It doesn’t seem to me that there is any correlation between stock market numbers and how people and the economy are really doing, at least not a correlation I particularly care about.

When I was online looking at real-estate offerings in upstate NY recently, I was shocked by the number of foreclosures. And when I was visiting a friend in Albany this past August, we drove around her neighborhood and I got a chance to see all of the houses that were for sale. We’re not talking one or two houses within a block or two of where she lives. We’re talking up to ten houses in the space of a block or two. It is a strange sight to see. I wondered what happened to all those unfortunate people who have lost their homes or were forced to sell. I can’t help but wonder if many of them just had the rug pulled out from under them. I think of all the people who lost their pensions in recent years at the hands of greedy and corrupt corporate leaders. The middle class is having a tough time of it. I don’t see an end in sight, especially if talented intelligent people are unable to find a job within two years of being laid off. I know three people who fit this description, all of whom have reached middle-age. Is that the reason they’re not being considered for new positions? Is there age discrimination at work? It reminds me of the nearly two-year period in the late 1970s when my father was unemployed. He was in his early fifties then. He finally did get a job, but that period of unemployment cost him the little health he had left by that time. I remember talking to him about it all, and I know that the stress of being unemployed and his loss of self-esteem were often overwhelming. He was always grateful to the last company he worked for, but he never had much good to say about corporate America in general.

I don’t really understand how it got to the point it’s reached at present. I do know that greed has played a role in creating the current economic crisis. Bad loans that have been prettily-packaged and marketed globally haven’t helped things. Overspending hasn’t helped, either at the personal, corporate or governmental level. I don’t know how the problems will be solved. I don’t think the solution will have anything to do with a political party shift in the White House. The Republicans don’t have any better answers than the Democrats. They just think they do. They keep pushing the idea of rugged individualism as the trait that made America the great nation it once was. And they’re right, it did help, early on, but that trait isn’t enough anymore to make it. There are no rewards for rugged individualism anymore and there are very few rewards for the strong work ethic that used to characterize the generation of Americans I knew and know. I am not sure what happened, but there has been a global shift toward not rewarding hard work and loyalty to a company. What have gotten rewarded in the last thirty years are greed and more greed, dishonest dealings, and unethical behavior—at least that’s how it seems to me. Companies who fire hard-working loyal employees to save money but who keep their CEOs and CFOs who are making multi-million dollar salaries are not my idea of what is good about America. You can give me all the arguments you want—that their leadership is good for the company and that they made their companies successful, etc. But still I ask--what do they need with a 50 million dollar annual salary when there are talented intelligent people who are earning very little on the unemployment line? These unemployed individuals are possibly the same people who helped make those companies successful, because we all know that a leader or leaders can never become successful in a vacuum. So if they reduced their salaries to a million dollars a year, think how many people they could employ with the remaining 49 million dollars. Wouldn’t it be great if some of that wealth could ‘trickle down’ to the middle- and lower classes in the form of jobs or salary increases for the underpaid? I’ve got to applaud Oprah Winfrey for recently giving all of her employees a 10 thousand dollar raise and an iPad She is a wealthy woman who at least made an attempt to reward her employees. There should be more like her.

I know that there are workers who are lazy, disloyal, uninterested, who feel ‘entitled’ and who have done little or nothing to deem them worthy of a reward. But I personally don’t know these types of people. I do personally know unemployed people who have worked long hours for their companies, traveled for them, given up time with their family for them, who haven’t been there to say goodnight to their children because they had to work. I also know people who are struggling to keep their small businesses afloat while they watch the large companies that they try to compete with, outsource manufacturing of the same types of products to China. The idea that they can compete with these companies and with this type of betrayal is a joke. The small businesses lose. I don’t think it takes an MBA from a prestigious college to figure that out.

I spend a lot of time observing what goes on around me and in the lives of the people I know in the USA and here in Norway. I listen to what people tell me. I look at my own work life and workplace. I see the discrepancies, the hypocrisy, the dishonesty, as well as the positive things--the faith that the younger people have in their futures—that things will be better for their generation. I hope that is true. I also hope that society finds its way back to an appreciation and reward of traits like loyalty and a strong work ethic, as well as fair treatment of loyal employees by company leaders and fair treatment of small businesses by their respective governments.

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