We all spend a lot of time thinking and talking about our ailing economy and how to fix it. It’s the never ending story on the evening news. But when the analysts and experts and politicians talk about the economy, they’re talking about a different economy than the one most of us live in.
It’s the politicians especially who like to talk, loudly and often, about the jobs they’ve created. But most of the jobs they talk about creating are pale imitations of the real thing. Yet, they consistently ask us to pretend that jobs offering mediocre pay and stingy benefits, with little or no opportunity for a brighter future, are real jobs worthy of real adults.
Our economy has derailed to the point where the idea of a business having status or being important to the community because of the jobs it creates is no longer even part of our public dialogue. Today, the only mark of a business’s success or failure usually discussed in the media, even among government officials, is its bottom line profit and its rising or declining stock price. And that’s blindly accepted by everyone as the way it should be.
Commentators and analysts gleefully thump the idea that big business is a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, fattest cash cow game.
There’s not even a mention, ever, of the once prevalent concept that big business has an even higher purpose for the world in which it exists, and that’s to provide a source of economic energy in the form of jobs for that world.
We’ve become so entranced with the concept of the stock market as a casino that we’ve abandoned the actual economic history of big business in modern industrial America. For example, much is made of the genius of Henry Ford’s assembly lines. Not much attention is paid to the fact that Ford also made the workers running those assembly lines the highest paid working people in the world.
Henry Ford’s assembly plant workers didn’t have to buy some complicated, bogus political philosophy to stay motivated. They knew he was getting rich, but they didn’t have to play any guessing games about when and if he would share the wealth. Ford’s workers were the most productive in the world for one reason and one reason only: their hard work paid off every week in their pay envelopes.
After WWII, our parents and grandparents, the members of the highly praised "greatest generation", followed in the hard working footsteps of their parents. But they were smart enough to know the difference between a real job and a phony job, and they would never have tolerated the baloney that we allow our politicians and business leaders and media experts to get away with today.
The "greatest generation" knew which end was up. The highest and most important reason to them for a General Electric or an IBM or a General Motors to exist wasn’t to make the major shareholders wealthier than greedy kings. It was to provide them with the jobs they needed to buy a home and a car, take a little vacation every year, and maybe send their own kid to college.
But we’ve bought the idea. And along the way, the stock market has degenerated into a frenzied, grubby, computer-driven huckster’s haven, where the suckers are us and our pensions, and good jobs and communities with a future are not even an afterthought.
Warren Buffett, the wildly successful stock market wheeler dealer, is unusual because he often tells the truth. For example, he has made it clear over and over that average investors have no business investing something as precious as their retirement funds in the modern stock market.
And in 2006, this renowned expert on the American and world economy told the NY Times (nytimes.com) all we need to know about what’s really wrong with it: "There’s class warfare, all right," Mr. Buffett said, "but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning."
Bill Donovan writes regularly for The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.