Monday, December 24, 2012

Corporations should have Duration

Ideas make the best gifts so here is one for everyone.

Now that corporations are individuals, they should also have a life span.  I suggest 20 years at which point they would be required to liquidate.  No exceptions.

Therefore, the idea would play out something like this:  small group of people have a bright idea for a business.  They get capital, incorporate, and start making their widget.   After three years of increasing sales, they go public, hire many new employees, and expand.  After many years of growth and prosperity, the company then must adjust to its looming termination date.  Maybe some employees jump ship while others wait to see what kind of buyout they might get at the end.  At 20 years, an auctioneer comes in and sells all the company assets.  The bondholders and shareholders are cashed out and people move on to the next business opportunity. 

What would this do for our economy? 

  • It would create an atmosphere of competition and constant churn
  • It would force businesses to stay relatively small and flexible
  • It would force employees to stay competent in their skills and specialties.
  • Corporate bonds would have a maximum duration of 20 years
  • It would purge deadwood from the markets
  • It would stifle monopoly development

 What would this do for our political system?

  • Elected officials should also have term limits, say 20 years in national, state, or local offices.
  • Wealthy people would have to use many corporations to influence the political process
  • Tax laws would need to incentivize small business creation and ownership
  • Public education and public health care systems would need more support

 As a transition to this process:

  • The S n P 500, 400, 600 and Nasdac 1000 should be broken up into 30,000 companies.
  • Private companies above a set cap limit should be broken up.
  • A ban on mergers and acquisitions would need to be set for 10 years (except for when a buyer is participating in a liquidation sale).

To have full employment we need to have constant small business creation.

Small is beautiful in the business world.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Chance Favors the Connected Mind

Today’s title comes from the last statement of the following video Where Good Ideas Come From.

The video is a summary of Steven Johnson’s book by the same name.

I highlight Johnson’s work because he offers a positive perspective on American culture.  He believes we are still progressing and changing in positive ways.  His newest book is Future Perfect.  There he outlines a world of connected people striving to solve problems collaboratively.  A 3 hour discussion is here.

Johnson is a breath of fresh air compared to Chris Hedges or Morris Berman.  Those two continue to tell a tale of American decline and collapse.  Our culture is dying--run and hide, or become a “prepper.” These guys provide good critiques of our culture; I don't think their forecasts follow from their data.

American culture is going to survive.  It will be reborn as something stronger and more powerful than it currently is.  To get there, the death of a status quo has to occur.  And, I think it is the oligarchs of finance who will take the brunt of this change, precisely because it was they who created this secular crisis.  Thus, it will be “those people” who eventually will be sacrificed to solve the problem.  It won’t be easy or pretty, maybe involving WW3. 

There will be a new America when it is over. The centralized banking structure will collapse.  It will be replaced by a decentralized one based on similar principles as discussed by Johnson in Future Perfect.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We Are All Connected (Cloud Atlas)

I saw the movie Cloud Atlas yesterday.  I was interested in the message it sends that “We are all connected” and “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."

The movie traces several souls over time, across six story lines.  It is someone’s idea of reincarnation.   To me it is another example of how deep into a new Dionysian world we have gone.  The Western Tradition, as revealed by Hollywood, is exploring its roots and transcendence.  I can’t say that this will become a blockbuster but surely the making of it with such a well known cast and crew is notable in itself.

The theme we are all connected might be the summation of much of our current techno-world.  Every piece of new junk that gets coined is about staying connected--Twitter, tweet, ipod, and Face Book.  All are used to grovel in a phatic social life, part raw and visceral, and part virtual.  This is contemporary America.

And, it confuses the hell out of many, mostly those who lean to the conservative side of life.  To them America is about Rugged Individualism and the American Dream.  In their world, we are all individuals living free and bound to no one. Our lives are ephemeral and there are no connections over time.   The theme of this movie should be very disturbing to the radical right.

The main theme also reminds me of an old Anthropology idea, the Psychic Unity of Mankind, from here:

The postulate of "the psychic unity of mankind" states that all human beings, regardless of culture or race, share the same basic psychological and cognitive make-up; we are all of the same kind. The postulate was originally formulated by Adolf Bastian, the "father of German anthropology", who was a classical German humanist and a cultural relativist, who believed in the intrinsic value of cultural variation. Bastian passed it on to his similarly minded student, Franz Boas, who, as the "father of American anthropology", transmitted it on to all of his students. Edward B. Tylor introduced it to 19th century British evolutionist anthropology, where it became a fixture, defended by all the major British evolutionists. The postulate, indeed, was essential to the great comparative projects of evolutionism, which would be futile if cultural differences were determined by differing biology. For the same reason, it has been central to later comparative projects, e.g. Radcliffe-Brown's, Barth's, Steward's, Godelier's etc. Today, the postulate is shared by all anthropologists (exceptions are hard to think of).

The spin off is the idea we are all connected psychically.  The modernists hated that idea.

Yes, we live in a Romantic world; the 21st century is reincarnating the ideas of the 19th.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Raw Individualism as Romanticism

I moved back to the Tulsa region, out on the fringe of the metro area, for a new job.  The metro is doing well with numerous construction projects ongoing.   This is quite different from depressed California and Washington, my last two locals.  Broken Arrow is magically expanding.  When I lived here 8 years ago, they were in the midst of a housing boom.  It busted, but not too bad.  Most local banks are doing well.  This suburb is hopping.

As usual, I read the local rags to get a sense of the food and entertainment.  The Urban Tulsa Weekly is a great local paper that is independent of the many other weeklies found around the country.   Its Oct 3rd issue had a cover story about small family restaurants in Tulsa called “Where Everybody Knows Your Name:  Individuality and Intimacy Tie Tulsa Cooking Together”, here.  The essay pointed out that the several places reviewed

 did not share cooking styles or spices, but each combines the virtues of humility, individuality, and intimacy… each owner or manager poured his or her own personality -- often including spirituality -- into the restaurant.  Instead of using marketing jargon to describe a restaurant, each owner or manager is able walk into the kitchen and say, "This is me."

I comment on this because it highlights a very basic aspect of our new Romanticism—expressive individuality.  Our culture is full of individuals doing their own thing.  (Let’s not dwell on the obvious conformity displayed when “everyone” is “doing their own thing”).   The Dionysian values the real, nature in its rawest form.  Our contemporary Romanticism is about people being raw and real (and accepts illusion as raw and real).  The Apollonian likes the abstract and cultivated, refined.  Modernism was all about refinement and betterment.  Both ethos’ dislike fakes, or the faux, and both have plenty of fakeness.  We all know that the fake is acting in some way, hiding the authentic.  The difference is in the raw entity versus the refined one.  Levi-Straus called this the “Raw and Cooked.”

During the Modernist years, it was authentic to better one’s self.  Get educated and enter a profession or become skilled in something and become a journeyman.  The important value was equality of opportunity for this self-improvement.  Here is Herbert Hoover, 1928:

Equality of opportunity is the right of every American, rich or poor, foreign or native born, without respect to race or faith or color, to attain that position in life to which his ability and character entitle him. We must carry this ideal further than to economic and political fields alone. The first steps to equality of opportunity are that there should be no child in America that has not been born and does not live under sound conditions of health, that does not have full opportunity for education from the beginning to the end of our institutions, that is not free from injurious labor, that does not have stimulation to accomplish to the fullest of its capacities. Here

It was Hoover who popularized the phrase “rugged individualism,” and the quote above was taken from a speech with that title.  He also published a pamphlet on American Individualism wherein he states:

No doubt, individualism run riot, with no tempering principle would provide a long category of inequalities, of tyrannies, dominations, and injustices. America, however, has tempered the whole conception of individualism by the injection of a definite principle, and from this principle it follows that attempts at domination, whether in government of in the processes of industry and commerce, are under an insistent curb. If we would have the values of individualism, their stimulation to initiative, to the development of hand and intellect, to the high development of thought and spirituality, they must be tempered with that firm and fixed ideal of American individualism-and equality of opportunity. If we would have these values we must soften its hardness and stimulate progress though that sense of service that lies in our people. Here

For Hoover, Individualism had to be tempered and softened through that sense of service to community.  A rugged individualist works to better society.  Government should help people in having equality of opportunity; otherwise, it should get out of people’s way.  This sense of service to society was very much akin to the Enlightenment idea of republican virtue and civility.

For much of the Modernist era this idea held sway.  Recently the Heritage Foundation published an essay about the waning of rugged individualism in America, here.  They started by describing how the movies of John Wayne and John Ford depicted characters who manifested the ideals of Rugged Individualism and personal responsibility.  They write:

“Out here a man settles his own problems,” said Wayne’s character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), summing up the idea of personal responsibility. This so-called rugged individualism, unique to America, was not detrimental to community; indeed, it was the key to building strong communities. It was this attitude that settled new territory, built cities, established industry, and fostered greater prosperity. Wayne’s and Ford’s movies and countless other examples from popular culture of the post–World War II era helped maintain an American spirit of individualism and enterprise, as Americans began navigating new frontiers including space, communications technology, and the darkened borders of the “captive nations” long occupied by Soviet forces.

Most people under age 45 could care less about John Wayne or the role model he represented.   Today, Individualism is raw, not rugged/refined.  There appears to be little interest in working for the public good or the betterment of society.  Go back and read Hoover’s 1928 speech; it was full of progress and cooperation.  Rugged Individualism required a sense of personal responsibility.  It was virtuous and noble.

Today’s Individualism is about raw expressions of individuality—this is me, take me as I am.  Mostly, this raw individualism is helpful or at least harmless.  People open restaurants and the ambiance is idiosyncratic to the owner.  People get tattoos to express some emotional or social connection; it doesn’t always mean they are gang members, outlaws, or societal misfits.  It’s just people using their bodies as canvases.  Likewise, we do most things to the extreme:  extreme sports, extreme tricked out trucks, extreme ghost hunting, etc.   

Much of this individuality is purposefully faked because the Dionysian likes to blend truths; the illusion is just as raw and likeable as the trickery behind it. (The Apollonian would separate them).  Individual expression and conformity are mixed because, hey, this is what we do in a Romantic era.  We blur everything.

Thus, the insidious side of individualism prospers.  And, it is also true that rugged individualism is fading in America, mostly because conservatives abandoned the idea long ago in favor of the Ayn Randian version (selfishness is a virtue).  Take the most selfish behaviors and call them something respectable, like Rugged Individualism, or worse, take selfishness and call it a virtue, and we see the worst of Individualism.

And this is what we have in our national politics and our financial centers.  Raw, unrestrained, running riot, Individualism without a sense of personal responsibility or public service.  The illusion is that this is supposedly all okay and we put up with political candidates that express these twisted values (here).

The irony of all this is that if we were to try to teach personal responsibility and public service in our schools the conservative folks would scream “socialism” and knock it down.  Today’s conservatives really don’t believe in either which makes the Heritage Foundation's essay a farce.

Selfishness is not a virtue no matter how you color it.