Saturday, November 29, 2014

(#59-1) November 29 2014. When it comes to startups, the ‘can-do nation’ is doing less and less.




I am’ constantly struck by the failure of the U.S. public to react to the most disturbing economic news—even when the underlying trends are at least as disastrous in their implications as the incident itself. Meanwhile, the media get whipped up into a frenzy over such matters as Ebola or Ferguson. Both the latter certainly deserve attention, but not to the point where they distract from matters of extraordinary significance to people’s economic health.

Let me give a contrast to help illustrate my point. If something fundamental—like the retirement age—is threatened in France or Ruritania (for instance), people will be out in the streets demonstrating in no time at all, and in politically significant numbers.

Not in the U.S.. Somehow, adequate knowledge of the issues, concern, and appropriate outrage seem to be in short supply here. This means that the movers and shakers can do virtually anything here—like buy the election results—without there being either a reaction or consequences. 

Americans seem to be politically supine to an extent which is decidedly unhealthy—at least from the point of view of democracy. The talent is there—we have plenty of highly articulate analytical people—but the concern doesn’t seem to be (or, if it is, it isn’t coalescing into political effective form—which may be more to the point).

Why is this?

  • The failure of the media which most Americans get their news from—TV news—to do an adequate job. The U.S. does, in fact, possess some truly excellent journalists, but they are largely concentrated in media—read, watched, or listened-to—by only a minority of people. Where the mass media are concerned, the view seems to be that Americans are incapable of understanding either complexity or nuance—and merely want to be entertained.  The danger of such a view is that it becomes self-fulfilling.
  • The success of a long propaganda campaign to disillusion, distract, and manipulate the American voter. The decline of trust in most institutions since the Seventies is quite dramatic—and is not an accident.
  • The inadequacies of the educational system to educate people beyond their prejudices.
  • The failure of the Democratic Party—in particular to evolve, and communicate, a coherent progressive message.
  • The near destruction of the trade union movement. Trade unions—like all human institutions—can have their faults, but they are just about the only counterbalance to corporate power there is. Trade unions have also been responsible for most of the gains made by American workers—like the 40 hour week.
  • The systematic conversion of a significant minority of the population into a non-voting semi criminalized underclass (which largely does not vote).
  • A well justified fear of the consequences—losing one’s job (and thus so many other things) in particular. You can pay a high price in this Land of the Free for speaking out.  

The decline of startups means that more and more of the economy is being controlled by major corporations (not to be confused with local businesses). Thanks to a long term trend towards concentration—mostly by way of mergers and acquisitions backed by financial corporations, this corporatized economy is dominated by a small number of large corporations in almost every market sector.  

Subject to some notable exceptions (there are some excellent corporations out there) large U.S. corporations, operating in a semi-monopoly environment, have a miserable track record in terms of customer value and service, treatment of their employees, customers and suppliers, concern for both community and national interests—and, above all, in terms of job creation and innovation. Recall the mass panic of the recent Great Recession which resulted in the arbitrary laying of of millions of workers—largely without either notice or compensation—and contrast it with German industry’s widespread employment of job-sharing.

But that is what we largely have already—and we are heading towards more of it in the future.

This does not augur well.

VOR words 590.

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