Political Demagogues, The Dow and You

As the Dow Jones takes the expected nose dive and the combined woes of Europe slowly move in the direction of bringing the collective EU economy to a standstill, there is hope of a sort.  It is a moment for reflection and reflection brings positive change.  The prolonged crisis is a teaching moment for all the middle-aged children running the show. The ongoing debate about the origins of the financial crisis presents a vexing dilemma for businesses, pundits and politicians.  How do we grow when economic chaos is the norm?  How do we market products and services when no one can afford to buy them?  It begins, at least to my mind, with how we even conceive of the current economic mess and its origins.

The technical perspective has relied on the perspective of reducing economic realities to numerical abstractions. Some contend that the crisis simply boils down to technical mistakes, independent of ethical considerations. Policy, regulations, trading practices, etc. all came together to form a perfect storm, so to speak. Banks should not have held so many fabricated and risky assets. The Fed’s monetary policy was far too loose. Credit default swaps should have been transparent. Securitization tools should not have been available to absolve mortgage providers of accountability. It was all matter of technicalities and procedural snafus.

Set in motion the political explanation. Tax cuts and the cost of two wars led to absurdly large budget deficits financed by China. Unprecedented income inequality translated into political power that not only succeeded in treating income as capital gains but also defeated prudent regulation. In other words, deregulate and cut taxes to the point where favor could be more easily curried with power brokers, corporations and the far right.  As a result, we saw the growth of a massive financial industry characterized by unbounded incentives for excessive risk-taking.  We also saw the emergence of a political dogma built on fantasy rather than fact.  Poor economic policy fueled the myth that less government and less taxation would create freedom and jobs.

The problem seems that we are all busy pointing the finger and/or digging through minutia in an attempt to validate positions we’ve already established.  We espouse the idea that the free market will heal what ails us even as we deride the very things an unfettered free market has produced.  Pornography, guns and all our vices are all opportunities that the free market has been able address – it’s hard to argue that a “degenerate society,” as Mr. Santorum described the bulk of the progressives, is the product of government intervention when the majority of the undesirable businesses have grown as deregulation has declined.  The problems businesses and economies around the world face go far beyond the cartoonish explanations of the current host of demagogues.

Eleven years of cutting (taxes, wages, spending, etc.) have brought us to the brink. Businesses thrive on a sense of consistency.  Yes, a willingness to embrace risk defines the entrepreneurial spirit and is a central element of all good businesses.  It is less about tax hikes and spending cuts than it is about providing an environment that isn’t prone to the chaos brought about by legislating through dogma.  Unfortunately, we have chosen to go down the path of ideological strong arming disguised as political discourse.  The result is that business and innovation suffer.

And so we see the results today of this prolonged expedition into fanaticism and one-way thinking.  The Dow Jones is down 633 points as I write this (and it will no doubt continue to slide) and there seems no way out. At least not until the dialog moves away from moralizing political diatribe and back to a reasoned approach to business and economic growth.  And therein lies the hope — suffering brings enlightenment.

Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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  1. “A reasoned approach to business and economic growth” – In the realiity of the present 2011 political environment – President Obama – U.S. Congress – and the influence of Tea Party Republicans?

  2. Great article Gavin!

    Might I add… What I find so perplexing is that the last 11 years have brought unprecedented technological advancement, inventiveness and entrepreneurship, particularly here in the US. However, we have not been able to translate this advancement into jobs and/or economic stability. I totally agree that deregulation is huge part of the problem, but what I am also seeing is technological advancement here in the States equals jobs and opportunity abroad, and in the end, it’s only putting money in the pockets of investors and the few lucky individuals that get to work for these growing firms domestically. This, I think, could be another argument for raising taxes on capital gains. With globalization there has been a huge shift is how the US economy works, if we can’t keep the jobs here in the US, we can at least raise revenues by increasing the taxes on the investors that have profited from shipping those jobs over seas.

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