I’ve prepared a short video on the subject: The Path To Prosperity and Restoring National Pride (click to watch). Anyone who offers you a quick answer to that question is either ignorant, a liar, or a fool. There is no good answer, only least-worst alternatives. It is possible however, to start a dialog that will eventually lead us out of this swamp back to dry ground, but a number of things need to happen first in order for that to become possible.
1) First, the solutions won’t come from a single set of answers (party platforms), it won’t be about who wins the next election, it needs to be a bipartisan dialog over time—a journey of collaboration and trust between all Americans.
2) The culture needs to change: the good news is that we are the culture…it changes the instant we change. My entire working life I’ve watched top performing professionals come into a new job and make decisions during their tenure that achieved their numbers and made them look good (layoffs, off-shoring, etc), but left the organization and the economy in worse shape when they left it than when they found it…corporate America has long been in a downward spiral. I cover some of the dynamics and what we might change in the book I’m writing, but we need a generation of corporate executives who are willing to die on the beach in order to leave things in better shape for the next guy coming up behind them…until finally, someone gets over the wall. I haven’t seen that breed of executive in a very long time, except maybe in our military services. Every player needs to be willing to work together and die on the beach if we really want to get out of this mess.
In gymnastic, if something is wrong you always start with the head to fix it. If you fix the position of the head, all the other body parts will follow and fall into place. In our current mess, the head of the beast is JOBS…fix that and a healthy economy will follow. But everyone is blaming everyone else for creating the unemployment situation and everyone is expecting the other guy to do something to fix it. The president is blaming congress, congress is blaming the president, business is blaming regulation and taxation, marchers are blaming Wall Street, bla bla bla bla bla—it’s all smoke!—opportunists pushing personal agendas. Let me clear the air. Those responsible for getting rid of the jobs in the first place were the CEOs of every company that’s gone through downsizing. When it started, most of their companies were profitable, had healthy cash flows, and good market positions, but somehow they all got into the same downward spiral. Why? Because they’d taken free capital from Wall Street and their stocks weren’t moving—share prices were stagnant—Wall Street needs price movement to make money. So the members of their boards that represent Wall Street started pressing; the CEOs respond by reducing the expense side of the equation with layoffs, squeezing out numbers each quarter that cause a momentary uptick in their stock. But the gratification is only momentary and must be repeated over and over. It’s like a prize fighter trying to make weight while their belly keeps getting fatter, sawing off a leg this quarter before they get on the scales, then another leg next quarter, then both arms the next time—until nothing’s left and someone has to come in and suture the parts back on (stimulus), just so that CEO and board can keep repeating the process.
Wall Street is not to blame for this behavior—if you’ve taken money from the devil you’re expected to do the dance. Both the blame for the current economic situation and the only possible solution rests squarely on the boards of each and every company. It’s the board who decides a company’s sources of capital and the consequence of those decisions. What they thought was free money from the capital markets wasn’t free—it came at a terrible price. It’s the board’s responsibility to balance the risk/earnings equation for a company. It’s the board who hires the CEO. Only the board can decide to dump their current “street credible” flash and dash and replace them with one of the thousands upon thousands of experienced, competent executives sidelined by the current crisis…and for a low to middle six figure salary…not the tens of millions they’re paying their current flash and dash. Only a CEO makes the hiring and firing decisions in a company—not congress, not the Fed, not the President—they have nothing to do with job creation! The only people who can create jobs are the CEOs. The performance objectives and compensation of every CEO need to change putting job creation at the top of the order.
The job situation starts to reverse itself the moment boards decide stock price needs to take a back seat for a while, until we get our economy healthy again. The beauty in this approach is that it doesn’t need to wait for any changes in the law, constitution, or bailouts—board members just have to decide one day to start doing it. It’s a self-help program that can start today and have immediate impact. We need a decade where boards focus on producing real value in the marketplace (not market cap) and on as much job creation as their balance sheets can support and still be marginally profitable. I’ll offer more in later communications.