2010: Four big hairy issues and how to solve themJanuary 6, 2010: 12:25 PM ET
1. Unemployment: We can't get anywhere when so many people are going nowhere. Good news came the other day in the manufacturing reports, but there's no real indication of job creation just yet. The worst thing is that we've gotten so good at firing people and exploiting the ones that are left.
You'd think that after a decade of reorganizing, restructuring, deconstructing and decimating, we'd have reached the bottom of the body pile. But we haven't. There always seems to be 8% to 10% more human beings that can be cut out of the machine. Then lo and behold, wow, we can do it with the guys that are left.
What we need is not only a rebound in the economy, it's the feeling in corporate America that it's good to employ people. This will be very difficult with the geniuses on Wall Street breathing down our neck for ever-greater cost efficiencies. And Wall Street, of course, is just a reflection of all of us greedy bastards who are trying to grow our money at 10% a year without a Madoff to lean on.
2. Regulation: I'm finding it tough to dislike Ben Bernanke. He made a speech recently where he said that the problems that led to the recession were caused by a collapse in the portions of our system that were charged with regulating the markets. Not people trying to buy homes. Not crazy shoppers over-using their debit cards. There are regulations that keep the banks and brokerages from running around like wild pigs in a Hannibal Lecter movie.
But since the Great Delegator was President the Federal Government has basically been working hard to strip the farm of those checks and balances. There are still many in Congress, the press, and the public who operate on the notion that there is something called the free market and that it should be allowed to operate unfettered for the good of all. There are also many who still believe that the earth is 11,000 years old. We don't listen to them, either.
3. Debt: The world is run on it. We can't live without it. I personally have too much of it. I can sustain it all right, as long as nothing happens to upset the delicate balance of my existence. But if and when some major block is removed from the Jenga pile? Oopsie daisy. Banks need to provide it. The housing market requires a free flow of it. Nations trade in mounds of it every day. Don't you get a sense that a clock is ticking? I hear it. Do you?
4. Doubt: Yesterday there were very good economic numbers coming out of a variety of sectors. It doesn't matter what they were. By the time you read this there will be other numbers.
What's interesting is that with every positive number comes a bunch of miserable, sackcloth and ashes dudes to rain on our parade. The newspapers are staffed by people in a business that believes it is dying. They are very depressed. They want everybody to be. The Internet is made up of aggregators who pass along that dyspeptic vision and add a little of their own underpaid misanthropy.
They all listen very carefully to the security analysts whose job it is to enable the dreams and fumes that fuel the investment business. Many of those make money betting against things. There are always inclined to believe the sky is falling. Actually, it usually is. But only during certain times in human history do people listen to those who constantly talk about it.
I'll tell you a little something. The business that I'm in has been considered a leading economic indicator for 50 years. Three years ago, the bottom started to fall out. It was pretty scary, I can tell you. This was almost 18 months before the worst of the recession hit. Today, the business is growing, in some places in the double digits, other places more slowly, but quite definitely. Pacing is up.
This speaks to a recovery in both the national and local economies that drive what we do. Virtually every article that I have read in the last two years was wrong about anything I know a little bit about. I can't tell if they were wrong about the stuff I don't know about, but perhaps you have some idea about that in your own area of the econo-sphere. So why do we listen to these people?
My recommendations, then, are pretty simple:
1. Hire more bodies and stop firing them whenever possible.
2. Start treating the big financial institutions as if they were individuals subject to laws that mandate social behavior.
3. Stop spending money we don't have, even if there are plenty of entities that want us to borrow it from them.
4. Ignore depressing people.
That shouldn't be too hard, should it?