Big issues, be gone!
(Fortune Magazine) -- You will notice, if you scan, troll, or cruise the global super-database these days, that nobody knows where the big machine is headed in the new decade, in spite of all the gas expended on the subject. Is the economy getting better? Worse? We try to see the future, or at least get some visibility a couple of weeks out. But none is to be had.
This is not because we are stupid. It is, rather, because several big, hairy conceptual monsters stand in the way of the horizon. Until we wrestle them to the ground, or at least shave them a bit, our vision will remain cloudy with no chance of meatballs. Here they are:
A few years ago, in Tokyo, I noticed that the city had hired people to escort subway riders on and off escalators. These citizens simply gestured us on and off the moving stairways. It seemed silly at the time. Now I don't know. Would they have been better off sleeping on the street?
You'd think that after a decade of restructuring, downsizing, and decimating, we'd have reached the bottom of the body pile. But we haven't. There always seem to be 8.4% more human beings that can be cut. What we need is a rebound not just in the economy, but in the feeling that it's good to employ people.
That will be difficult with the geniuses on Wall Street rewarding every cutback with a bump in the stock. Of course, the Street is just a reflection of all of us greedy basterds trying to double our money. Look in the mirror, people!
I'm finding it tough to dislike Ben Bernanke. He made a speech recently in which he said that the problems that led to the recession were caused by a collapse of regulation. Not people trying to buy homes. Not crazy shoppers with debit cards. There are regulators who are supposed to keep the banks and brokerages from running around like wild pigs in a Hannibal Lecter movie. And they didn't do their jobs.
Know why? Because they were hired to not do them. Since there was morning in America, the federal government has been working hard to take the muscle out of every agency charged with regulating business. There are still people who think the market should be allowed to operate unfettered for the good of all. There are also people who believe that the earth is 11,000 years old. We don't listen to them either.
The world runs on it. We can't live without it. Banks need to provide it. The housing market requires a free flow of 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 some major block is removed from the Jenga pile? Oopsie daisy.
Even on days when the economic news is encouraging, miserable commentators rain on our parade. Newspapers and magazines are staffed by people in a business that believes it is dying. They are depressed, and they want everybody to be. The Internet is made up of aggregators who pass along that dyspeptic vision and add their own underpaid misanthropy.
The fact is, nearly every article I have read in my life has been wrong, at least in part, about anything I know even a little bit about. I can't tell if they were wrong about the stuff I don't know about. So why do we listen to these people? I have an idea. Let's not.
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 govern 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?
Stanley Bing has recast his book "Executricks" for the paperback edition available everywhere; it is now titled "How to Relax Without Getting the Axe." For more Bing, unrelated to the Microsoft search engine, go to stanleybing.com.