I was watching CNBC sometime last week, and was struck by the amazing gall of the panel of financial experts as they riled at the idea that Congress might actually place some stipulations on the billions of tax-payer dollars they’re dishing off to the banking industry as an essential bailout. All seemed to agree that the bailout money was needed…and fast. At least the most vocal panel members, however, also spoke vehemently about how Congress knows nothing about the banking industry, so they shouldn’t try to ‘run this business.’
I found myself shouting at the TV, saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Expert…neither you nor the banking industry knows how to ‘run this business’ or we wouldn’t be in this mess today!’ In my book, it’s pretty arrogant to tell the biggest single stockholder in a whole sector of the economy to butt out in the discussion of pending decisions. If these experts really wanted Congress to let them alone, all they needed to do was to take care of business in a responsible way in the first place.
Here’s what I consider to be a recurring event: when the people whose responsibility it is to make critical decisions fail to do so, they are amazed and angry when others step in who don’t really know how to ‘run this business.’ They are right that the ‘others’ aren’t well versed in how the business runs, but in the face of total dysfunction someone needed to do something…and they were unwilling to make the tough decisions when a crisis could have been averted.
My dad was a farmer in central California. I remember a conversation we had in the 70s about the increasing threats of pesticide regulations, and what these regulations would mean to the farming business. I recommended a pro-active approach by farmers across the state where they would self-regulate in dramatic ways, crafting policies that would best fit the industry and the public’s demand for care. I remember saying that, if they (the farmers) didn’t create workable regulations, people who didn’t know the unintended and serious consequences of their actions would step into the vacuum to make their best guess at farm and environmental policy. And that’s what happened.
We need a new generation of leaders in the business community who are willing to include the public’s need for responsible decisions on their ‘balance sheet.’ This can also be a part of a conversation I believe is needed to define the role of government in the national economy. If business leaders are unwilling to make the tough decisions, ‘others’ who are less prepared to decide will have to step into the vacuum.