We Are All Interconnected

ARTICLE

The optics are contradictory. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were walking in Boston when a parade of Occupy Wall Street activists marched by. It was a fast moving parade that only lasted about three blocks. As we watched them, I was struck by some incongruities. One lady was holding a placard that said ‘Tax the Rich’ while wearing Nike running shoes and texting on her iPod. Another man was chanting anti-capitalist slogans while drinking Dasani water, wearing Levi jeans and sporting a Bluetooth in his ear, all made by global corporations run by well compensated executives.

 

Our world is full of contradictions. We praise and encourage hybrid and electric car development, but are reluctant to give up the power, performance and convenience of gasoline powered machines. We want others to forgive our debt to them (e.g. student loans), but are indignant when others ask us to forgive their debt to us. I wanted to “Buy American”, so I went out and bought a car made in Indiana with American labor, parts and money from our locally owned Mohawk Honda dealership. Honda’s Indiana autoworkers are grateful for their jobs. However, Honda executives denied its own citizens the opportunity to make my car in Japan. Outsourcing works both ways.

 

Whether we like it or not, we are tied together in a global community. My city of Schenectady, NY has a number of fine Italian restaurants. Olive oil is a prime cooking ingredient and it comes from olives growing predominantly in Mediterranean and certain Central American countries. We shop at the local Hannaford grocery store which is owned by a Belgian corporation. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, that quintessential New England operation with strong philanthropic values and a commendable sense of corporate social responsibility, sold out several years ago to Unilever, a British-Dutch multinational corporation that also sells Hellman’s Mayonnaise. Pension funds are dependent upon the ability of their managers to find and invest in profitable companies worldwide that can generate above average returns. Fund managers are watching carefully how the debt problems within the Euro zone play out.

 

The protesters appear to be on to something, but no one, not even the protesters, can say for sure what that something is. Nor can they say what Wall Street or government can do that would cause them to declare victory and go home. I prefer to listen to people who propose constructive suggestions to problems instead of those who are angry or frustrated about something but cannot recommend solutions. The 1% versus the 99% is an important issue, but is perhaps more symptomatic of a far wider range of issues that need informed debate which then leads to decisions and execution of the solutions.

 

The problem is much bigger than simple slogans of belief. Unemployment remains maddeningly high among certain ethnic and age groups. Aging Baby-Boomers are staying in the work force longer than expected thus blocking job and job advancement opportunities of younger workers. Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid are bordering on insolvency. Paradoxically, American computer companies are having a tough time finding qualified computer science majors to fill their employment needs. Immigration law reform is stymied because of the inability of corporations to find enough legal residents to do the work that is available in the agricultural and hospitality industries. Washington’s toxic political gridlock, general ideological polarization, and volatility has spilled into some of the states, thus blocking meaningful reform.

 

Our current fiscal situation is not unique to the US. The entire world is watching with bated breath the economic situation playing out in the Euro zone. Greece is now paying the piper for spending far more than it can produce or pay for. When Greece, or any other country for that matter, defaults on their loans (of which US investors have a substantial direct and indirect investment interest), people suffer. Is America far behind? Complex and effective solutions can and must be negotiated among factions with vastly different opinions and self interests. It is in our interest to re-think virtually everything in a rational, informed and passionate manner and make some decisions. The protesters appear to be unable to generate alternative solutions to existing problems that will also allow them to keep their Coleman tents and Land’s End parkas and contribute meaningfully in fixing corporate America, upon which we all depend.

 

I urge the protesters and everyone else, to generate some plausible solutions to what ails us, and that the politicians would re-learn how to engage in meaningful debate about the merits of each idea – like our government is supposed to work. We did it during the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, Civil Rights, landing men on the Moon. Our society encourages people like Steven Jobs, Bill Gates, and Ben & Jerry to follow their passions and make our world a better place for everyone. We’ve done it before. We can certainly do it again. I guarantee it.

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