Since reading Thomas Friedman's post Time to Reboot America the other day it has been kinda sitting there percolating in the back of my mind. It was one of those clear and insightful posts that leaves very little arguing room on either side of the issue. Then this morning I read Fred Wilson's post; Bits Of Destruction, in which he references Friedman's earlier post. Like Friedman's post much of what Fred had to say is also unarguable in its reality. I can't say all because there were a couple of points I took exception to but I'll get to them in a bit.
One of the most salient points that Thomas said in his post was this
All I could think to myself was: If we're so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? Back home, I was greeted by the news that General Motors was being bailed out — that's the G.M. that Fortune magazine just noted "lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job."
G.M. isn't alone in this, the automotive industry isn't alone in this executive greed, the US isn't alone in this behaviour of executive greed as the same thing happens in Canada as well. In contrast we have the CEO of Japan Air Haruka Nishimatsu; making less than the airline's pilots, who on the news of economic problems cut back his salary and luxuries first before asking the same of any airline employees.
What happens here in the US and Canada – the executives play musical boardrooms, pocket multi-million dollar bonuses and shutdown workspaces like they are nothing more than notches on their belts. In Ontario alone we had a CEO of Ontario Hydro that was fired from his job after a year but still walked away with a $7 million bonus – even though he had driven the company into the ground. In the US you have executives across all spectrums of business – technology included – who make more in bonuses; as they are fired for their failures, than 99% of society will see in a lifetime of hard work.
Even within the world of technology we have placed more value on nothingness than we have on people. There is no feasible reason why businesses like Facebook are worth $15 Billion or that companies like Twitter continue to exist with absolutely no visible business plan to make money. Even the vaunted Google is really nothing more than a one-trick revenue pony and yet as intransient as that income is we place more value on what it might do rather than what it really does – which is sell ads. Meanwhile the people at the top get to play with their 747's and act like they are our salvation to everything.
could go on and on but will stop here. If you want to get a longer riff on these ideas, get Jeff Jarvis' book, What Would Google Do?, where he imagines Google operating in many different industries and thinks about how they would approach them.
To be honest Google is the last company I would want in the world to tell me how they would approach the problems we face today. I would much rather companies with a heart like Lance inc be the ones to lead the way – at least they give a shit about the real people who are making the products we pay our money for. Money that for a growing segment of society means less and less every payday.
A simple example of how bad the cost of living is for the real citizens of our society can be seen in something as simple as a submarine sandwich. Back in the early 80's when I was night manager of a sub shop the Assorted Sub cost the customer $2.95 (no tax on food at that time) – that same submarine sandwich now costs the consumer $6.98 (including tax as that has also changed in the intervening years). That amounts to a $4.03 cost to the consumer over 20 years.
That might not seem like much but when you look at the change in minimum wage during that same time it is easy to see why food banks are a big growth business today. In 1980 the Canadian minimum wage (non-student as that was even less) was $6.00 ($3.10 in the US) whereas today the minimum wage is an average of $8.00 per hour ($5.85 in the US) which amount to an average of $2.00 growth of the minimum wage – and that is if you were a man, as women and students earn less. Minimum wage hasn't even kept up with the price we now pay for that submarine sandwich.
At the same time we have seen pays and compensation packages for the smallest minority of the top 1% of our working society consistently climb year after year. These amounts climb by the millions of dollars - not the single dollar amounts that regular folks get if we do get them. While these rarefied few pocket more and more money we have soldiers dying on oil based battlefields whose families have to look for government social assistance in order to feed and clothe their families. We have idiots hitting a ball making tens of millions while teachers, police and firefighters – the other real heroes – are constantly facing cutbacks or worse.
This of course is at a time when both countries are experiencing a downward slide on just about every chart from education to technology. As Freidman pointed out in his post
My fellow Americans, we can't continue in this mode of "Dumb as we wanna be." We've indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can't afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world's best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.
I totally understand the need for companies to make money but at what point does making billions for the pockets of corporate executive who seem to fail more than succeed become more important than the people contributing their blood and sweat to make those billions. A segment of society is being priced out of being able to enjoy even the most reasonable of expect lifestyles. Instead they face food banks and homelessness.
We have lost sight of what is really important here in our rush to be the next Google, Microsoft or some other such daydreaming start up living off of venture capital monies. Far more than a reboot we need a severe kick in the fucking ass in order to realize that countries like South Korea, Japan and now China are surpassing us in just about every field for a reason. If not then we might as well just bend over and kiss that ass good-bye.