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Monday, August 2, 2010

Leadership: Fear and Uncertainty in the Headlines Today

We read a lot about fear these days. Fear of the growing deficit. Fear of new regulations. Fear of government interference. Fear of socialist policies. Each day we are introduced to something else that we should fear. Millions of unemployed Americans are told there are no new jobs being created in spite of renewed profitability because Business Leaders are fearful and uncertain. And we are told that the fears of these Leaders should be ours.

From the Main Street point of view, it seems only fitting, maybe karmic, that the perpetrators and perpetuators of widespread fear begin to taste the bitter fruits of their labors, as only they have enjoyed the sweet. Last week, during heated discussions surrounding 10 years of major Business tax cuts (that added billions to the deficit), news headlines across the country threatened that “The last thing we want is for the wealthy to feel fearful!“ Are the headlines true? Is that the last thing, or the first thing, that we want?

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. Wikipedia describes fear as “ a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger”. What is it that incites fear in the hearts of the wealthy – the millionaires and billionaires? How fearful could, or should, they be when they are sitting on $1.3 trillion dollars in profits to date (an amount that rivals our national deficit)? Are their fears surrounding deficits, new government regulations, an end to estate taxes, or an end to their last 10 years of tax cuts, threatening their personal survival? Definitely not.

Millions of Americans would love to tell these CEO’s and shareholders about the REAL feeling of fear . What it is to live moment to moment, hour by hour , with great uncertainty - about their ability to survive. Beginning with the day they lost their jobs and could not find another.

Fear , by biological design, is intended to be a very short term state, sending a powerful stream of signals to our brain, triggering a fight or flight response. Millions of Americans now live in a constant state of fear – an ongoing, never-ending, response to the struggle of the fight for their day to day survival. 4 million people in America lost their only source of income last June (UI) with another 50,000 more people added to their numbers every passing day – the long term unemployed.These numbers represent the previous wage earners(not dead-beats) for their families – mothers and fathers all across America, desperately trying to find ways to feed and shelter their children. Another 10 million previously hard-working Americans are barely scraping by, spending only on life’s necessities through a combination of Unemployment Insurance and the depletion of their life savings. Another 15 million people here find themselves under-employed – earning too much to be eligible for assistance but not enough to pay all their bills.

The real numbers of people affected by the loss of employment stretches far beyond the numbers of the Unemployed. If the average wage earner supports a family of 3, then the 4 million who were cut off from UI last June, has really left 12 million people facing the very real fears of homelessness and starvation.

Businesses have now amassed $1.3 trillion in profits. largely through cost-cutting measures. They appear to have no problem boasting about how they are increasing their incomes by reducing ours - through the conscious and deliberate elimination of the paychecks of millions of Americans.

Downsizing is no longer a necessary response to a poor economy as profits are being reported in billions of dollars and bonuses are paid in the millions. Yet downsizing continues with more planned for upcoming months. Essentially a sizable chunk of the current and projected profits and payouts, then, owe themselves to nothing more than the elimination of some persons, actually millions of persons, former paychecks – maybe our mothers, our brothers, our nieces, our friends or our neighbors . The suicide rate among the long-term unemployed is now reported as showing a 75% increase as more and more people continue to lose hope. Are we all OK with profits becoming just a new form of “blood money” ? Ironically, rather than feeling any shame or remorse concerning their strategies, these Business Leaders tout these lean, mean company machines as an example of the success of “strong Leadership”, one that their smaller competitors are soon likely to follow.

Over the last 10 years, Corporations have successfully slashed and outsourced workforces and have been handsomely rewarded with bulging corporate coffers and exceedingly decadent personal life styles. Officer and executive salaries jumped from 30 times to 300 times that of their average worker. 1500 times is not uncommon. (Whatever happened to piercing the Corporate veil/evil because a company was top-heavy? Is there anything but top-heavy anymore?)

But now the wealthy tell us they are fearful for tomorrow (not today) . They whine that the future is uncertain. They want Main Street to join them in repealing everything that’s new, everything that changes their present way of “doing business”. They sit on their fortunes because they say they are unclear about the direction our nation is moving. Somehow protecting their own asses and a trillion dollars in assets is viewed as the better choice between employing another million persons from the millions they unemployed. That’s the wealthy party line - even as they’re amassing billions more!

So why should our wealthy Business Leaders be spared feeling fear when millions of their former employees live in nothing but constant fear - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no hope in sight? Our Business Leaders do not live in fear as Main Street lives in fear but it is clear that their assets are being threatened. They are threatened because the profits they show today are simply not sustainable and so their future is uncertain too.

A major difference between the wealthy and Main Street however, is that much of their uncertainty comes by their own hands and because of their own strategies. You can only cut a workforce so far before it becomes largely dysfunctional or non-functioning. Like it or not, Business Leaders need employees to run their businesses and we are nearing the end of the line on just how much further they can reduce personnel. Largely diminished quality control (Toyota), diminished attention to safety (BP), and a marked decline in B2B and customer service – (everywhere), are already showing symptoms of the quickened pace, shortened work hours, and the “double duty-nose to the grindstone” now expected from their remaining employees. Cost-cutting strategies are limited in what can be cut and how deeply it can be cut. The strategy of cutting costs to increase profits is only sustainable so long as cost-cutting actively continues. So, what is the next cost-cutting/profit making strategy? Continue to aggressively outsource jobs to foreign countries offering cheaper labor.

Main Street - do you really think these Business Leaders are going to give you back your jobs when you give them carte blanche to do only one thing (make profits) and to do it however they want?
Should we be terribly concerned about this small percentage of people who are, directly or indirectly, busy throwing people off company payrolls and exploiting the remaining workforce just so they can stockpile another trillion dollars in profits? Or should we listen to their self-serving fears and then cast our votes against whatever they favor? And in favor of whatever they fail to support ?

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