Posted by: Frank | March 14, 2009

Time To Take Off The Shades

One of the themes of the ’90s can be summed up in Timbuk 3’s song, “The Future is So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades.” This particular song is seared into mine, and the memories of many of my co-workers during the ’90s because of a corporate video featuring our CEO dancing to this song wearing sun glasses. To drive the point home we all were given our own sun glasses with flourescent frames and the corporate vision written on the sides. It’s typical of the B.S. handed down to corporate drones by CEOs and direct reports who were well on their way to millions and billions of dollars and golden parachutes.

It’s time to take off the shades!

Today I read two articles that got me thinking about our future. First is a New York Times piece by Joe Nocera on the people who fell for Madoff’s ponzi scheme. To me the point of the article is on the silliness of millionaires who could have prevented falling for this trap had they done some simple research into how exactly they were going to make all this money. But before you read this article and feel self-righteous, keep in mind that more than just millionaires were eager to make tons of money doing nothing. Most of us who work in corporate America are in the stock market thanks to our 401ks, and most of us want, even demand 15% to 30% returns every year. Some of us who want to make quick money buy directly into the stock market demanding the same returns. We seem to forget that there are no guarantees on those returns, and for most people investing in the stock market is a form of legalized gambling.

The second article I read is a blog post by Clay Shirky on the newspaper industry. The gist of this blog post is that newspapers are going away, to be replaced by what, we don’t know. Journalism is what is really important, not newspapers. Anyone not wearing sun glasses can see this happening as several major city newspapers have closed shop. In Detroit the newspapers soon will stop delivering except for Thursday thru Sunday and will put more online. For some time Dave Winer has been posing the question, “when newspapers go away, how will we get our news?” I would say that we should have been asking this question for decades already, though it should have been phrased thus: “when corporations own all mass media, how can we trust the news?” That is really the big question that Jon Stewart drives home in his interview with Cramer, CNBC, which is part of NBC, is owned by General Electric. You have to wonder whether a subsidiary of one of the Dow Jones companies is really motivated to fully report on the stock market when the CEOs and directs and mid-managers of these corporations make most of their money from stock options. (What is under reported is how corporate decision making seems to be primarily driven on guaranteeing returns rather than on doing what is right for their employees and their business.)

These are but two examples of problems going on right now and there are many more. What we have to be careful of is to just focus on these individual cases rather than look at all the problems areas collectively and seek the common denominator. To me it should be obvious, the common denominator is greed. Greed is what drives us to want more and more money, and if we don’t have to do any work to make that money, all the better. Greed is what drives us to ignore at best the obvious about what is happening, and lie about it at worst.

Greed is what has distorted the definition of “the American dream.” For our grandparents the American dream was to have a good job, earn a good wage, have a comfortable life for our family, and hopeully enable our children to have a better life than our own. Some time during the ’90s the American dream changed to become millionaires. We are obsessed with becoming rich to our own detriment. Rather than obsessing on being rich, we need to start obsessing on enough! When will we take off our shades and see what we are doing to our ourselves?

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