Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Commonsense CEO (of a country) Creed - Or - Our Present Predicament is Entirely of Our Own Doing

This is me rambling, very early this morning, after a strong cup of coffee. Couldn't help it. If you agree, pass it on. If I missed anything or if you'd like to suggest a modification or addition, feel free to comment below.

Let's say you're the Chairman and CEO of the world's largest corporation (from here on 'you' and 'the corporation' will be synonymous). And let's say you're mutually owned. That is, your shares are divided among the very individuals, one share apiece, to whom you market your wares. You have roughly three hundred million shareholders/customers. You, for a fee (income tax), provide, among other things, roads and highway construction and maintenance, school construction and administration, and domestic security/defense. You help your customers adjudicate conflicts amongst one another (enforce the rule of law), you administer/manage their compulsory retirement and senior health care plans, and you administer their monetary system. You're also a huge benefactor to folks in need. In fact, you provide services to 125 million+ individuals nearly free of charge.

Your business is cyclical. That is, while you're considered a consumer staple, your revenue (tax receipts) fluctuates measurably with the economic cycle. I.e., when, during recessions, your customers' incomes decline, so does yours (naturally). And when, during expansions, your customers' incomes rise, yours does as well. You are considered the world's best credit risk. You therefore enjoy virtually unlimited access to capital at the lowest rates possible. But nonetheless, you understand the laws of [business] nature; that, when the economy (and consequently your revenue) contracts, you have to make the necessary adjustments. That is, you lay off nonessential workers, you cut back on nonessential (low margin) services, you curtail any and all major initiatives that would strain present reserves and, at a minimum, you keep prices (taxes) steady while you look for ways to cut prices (taxes) where feasible. And of course you'll have to cut back measurably on your charitable activities.

You understand that, being the world's largest and most powerful organization, it is critical that you never abuse your power, and that you run your company as efficiently and profitably as possible. Thus far you have supplied the infrastructure to allow your best and brightest to prosper. In fact the most successful five percent of your customers account for fifty-five percent of your revenue. Your top twenty percent account for roughly eighty percent of your business. While you must treat your best customers well, you have to keep a very close eye on them. They are notorious for lobbying you to bend the rules in their favor. They do this because they understand the power you [can] wield over the economy. You therefore have to keep a very tight rein on your management personnel (Congress) as well. As they are appointed by vote of your shareholders/customers. They can thus be easily captured by special interest groups of all stripes.

While during good times you have expanded your product line, you understand that ultimately your bread and butter is the running of the monetary system, enforcing the rule of law, and providing national security. Otherwise it's critical that you stay out of the way (again, never abusing your power) and allow your shareholders/customers the freedom to take risks, to construct their lives however they see fit (within the rule of law), the freedom to succeed beyond their wildest expectations, and, very importantly, to fail when they miscalculate the risks they take.

This my fellow shareholders is how our country should be run. Those who would have us deviate from this model, their academic achievements, political ambitions and (perhaps) good intentions notwithstanding, do not understand how to run a successful enterprise, nor do they understand the basic nature of a free market system. This is not lalaland thinking, this is the thinking we need to (re)adopt in a hurry to get our nation on track.

Clearly, our current CEO and his immediate predecessor (opposite parties btw), had too much in common (platforms notwithstanding). Neither understand/understood business basics and are/were easy prey for special interests. But those are the kinds of characters we appoint over and over again. Perhaps those are the only kinds of characters who would run for office [although you could argue that Romney has the business know how (that's good), but I suspect, like most (if not all) politicians, he's an easy capture for his supportive special interests]. So here's the thing; we have to make it in their political best interests to do the right things. I maintain that the character of the office is a reflection of the character of the nation. Politicians, of all stripes, will bend to the will of the voter. Therefore it's us who haven't understood business basics and it's us who have been easy prey for special interests (i.e., our present predicament is entirely of our own doing). And therefore it's us who have get US back on track.

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