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Is it time to take a look at the way business is done in America?

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There were two pieces in my local paper today that caught my attention. One was a letter to the editor from a woman that stated "Obama victory a win for everyone". Ms. Cohen went on to say that there is a word in the Hebrew Bible, "tzedukah" which does not translate into "charity" but rather "justice" and that is what she thinks President-Elect Obama means when he used the term "spreading the wealth".

I like Ms. Cohen's take on that and I also agree that Obama has been unjustly criticized for the statement. Simply put, "how about a fair shake for everyone". The second piece was an editorial by James Sherk, a Fellow at the Heritage Foundation that blames the UAW for the Big Three financial disaster. He points out those autoworkers "are among the world's most affluent" making some $75 per hour. He uses the term "most affluent", as if they should be ashamed.

True, $75 hour based on a 40-hour week is $150,000 a year. A lot of money. But, compare that to what the corporate hierarchy makes, and it is not so much. Do we have one worth for "corporate men" and another for the worker? I wonder if Mr. Sherk would care to step out of his "intellectual foundation world" and share with us average people what he made last year. I bet not. First of all, he would have to let us all be aware that what one small voice on OEN makes a bit of difference to him. Ms. Cohen my not get the space in a Newhouse paper that Mr. Sherk receives but her words are certainly more powerful.

As we face the worst financial crisis in perhaps the country's history, I have begun to consider the merits of our so-called, capitalistic system. In the recent election we heard "socialism" used over and over, and "spreading the wealth", as if any good American would be immediately turned against any candidate that could be tagged with that term. Probably, if the economy were not so awful, so many losing jobs, companies going out of business, retirements lost, the rhetoric would have had more effect. It is sort of like being rescued at sea; let the vessel sink, and I promise the color, religion, or gender of the rescuer will make no difference at all. F.D.R. was accused of socialistic programs, but not until the economy had begun to recover and never by anyone poor or hungry.

Have you heard of anyone that wants to get rid of social security? We have become a country that responds to terms without really giving those terms a lot of thought. As was so well stated in a recent video, the term "support the troops" has lot of emotions connected with it, yet it really has no meaning. Support the troops by giving them the body amour that they did not have; support the troops by reinforcing the humvee's, or the big one, support the troops by bringing them home.

Liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, religious, gay, Wall Street, all bring up images to everyone but those images are very different. In his book, The Political Brain, Dr. Drew Westin states, "it is not what you say, but what they hear". At a time where we are in two wars, the most dangerous economy since the Great Depression, health care, environment, and much more the person that could solve all this could be an alien. If the "ship" is sinking and if the rescue ship is flying a red star, who cares.

Let us look ate this economy over the last 8 years. Forbes magazine now requires at least one billion to make the list, and in the state in which I live, Alabama, there was one 86-year-old female worth 1 billion. The average CEO of a Fortune 500 company, that 20 years ago made 10 times what the worker on the line made, now makes 400 to 500 hundred times.

We have watched as CEO's managed to run companies in the ground and yet left within a very short period of time with millions in compensations. We are now in the midst of bailing out different companies with taxpayer funds, and no one in the Administration nor few in Congress are talking "socialism".

The arguments on both sides of the bailout are a strong disagreement between those that believe in "letting the market work", and those that believe it is far too dangerous for the government to not take action. Both sides present reasonable positions, and both sides are represented by smart and experienced people and the exact course of action is still being debated, but is this a vote for or against socialism? Were the steps that F.D.R. took socialistic and therefore should we repeal Social Security? I doubt that the most conservative member of congress would give that a second of thought. It would seem then, that if we have a government program that we like, socialism is ignored and we simply rename the program. The War Department became the Department of Defense, but what really changed?

Let me say quickly, I am a product of the capitalistic system---both the bad and good. I have started, I think, 8 business's over the last 45 years some of which lasted many years, some that failed to get off the ground, and some that got off briefly and crashed. This country was once made up of small business's, that prospered in a growing economy, along with some very big corporate entities; but over the last 20 years we have seen corporations slowly take a bigger and bigger share of the market and CEO's that have no regard at all for the workers. Leveraged buyouts by hedge funds that immediately reduce employment and or, sell off the companies in bits and pieces. All of this being done under the guise of "free enterprise". I would doubt that the people that have lost jobs, watched as their pension funds are raped, feel all that free.

Whether Greenspan, Krugman, or Paulson one thing that all seem in agreement on, is this is a place "we" have never been in before and if it is worse than the big D, we do not yet know------but it is damn bad. Is this a time for us to forget about liberal, conservative, capitalistic, socialistic, and start thinking outside the box. Perhaps we should re-visit the Roosevelt era and begin to think about what role the government needs to play. Between Citi Bank and IBM there have been over 100,000 people that have lost their jobs. Good people, smart people, highly trained people and they need work. What if something along the lines of the CCC programs were formed to begin working on our dilapidated infra structure and civil service jobs were offered, many of which could be six figures with good benefits. Instead of fat and greedy CEO's there would be ceilings on what you could make and if you did not like the offer, remain in another sector. Perhaps the next bridge collapse could be avoided. With road and bridge construction on a massive scale, think of the small business's that would also profit, from suppliers of steel, concrete, sand and gravel, and the myriad of things needed.

Lester Carl Thurow (born 1938) is a former dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of numerous bestsellers on economic topics speaks to a "third way", that would see government and business working more closely togeather rather than being at odds with each other. There seems to be two realities in this country; one is for business to be free of government intervention, and the other we can call the "Katrina Effect" and that is "where the hell is all the help". Those two realities need to be brought togeather. I like what Margaret Bassett said to me, "What is important as we are near completing a decade of a new century is to defrag buzz words like socialism, libertarianism, etc.


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Gin Arnold is a 70 year old liberal living in Cotacachi, Ecuador after living in S. Alabama. I have owned several businesses, lived aboard a 32 foot sailing yacht, been a bar tender, boat captain, short order cook, and imported furniture from (more...)
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