Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ask What You Can Do

The new Sunday Review section of the New York Times (which I like very much) adds an interesting feature: Readers respond to a provocative letter to the editor.

This past weekend, the "Sunday Dialogue" was sparked by an executive recruiter. He offered several ideas for ending the financial crisis:

... creating jobs by investing in infrastructure, and for reducing the deficit by increasing the age for Medicare beneficiaries, using means-testing for Social Security recipients, reforming the tax code to close loopholes and make it fairer, ending subsidies for giant corporations, bringing all of our troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas and eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich.

Oft-discussed solutions, none of which seems very do-able considering the gridlock in Washington. What intrigued me, though, was this response from Rebecca Zicarelli of Maine:

With all the daunting problems we face, the questions being asked are: What can President Obama do? What can the Fed do? What can Congress do? We’re so focused on government, we forget the private sector, as Mr. Lowenstein did in his letter.

The private sector seems to be waiting for some far-off day when government gets out of the way. It’s time for the private sector to stop sitting on the piles of cash we hear about and use it to create new demand, to create growth. Stop overworking your existing employees. Hire new employees.

I keep hearing that “government’s the problem.” Well, if you run a company and you’ve got the ability to hire but you’re not hiring, you’re the problem.

We need to talk about what you can do for your country.

I've been waiting for someone to start talking about the responsibility of the private sector and the encouragement of consumer confidence. I wish the idea had been raised by someone in a leadership role, no offense to Rebecca (who writes a darned good letter).

I'm frankly surprised it hasn't been.

During 11 years of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave 30 evening radio speeches dubbed the Fireside Chats (you can listen to the first one at the link and hear him tell people that banks are safer than stashing money under their mattresses.)

The chats were short, plain-spoken and aimed directly at regular folks. They earned FDR a great deal of trust and affection with the public, at a time of great panic and fear, and influenced positive public response (such as halting a run on the banks).

It seems to me we need similar calls to calm and to patriotism right now. The constant drumbeat of doom and gloom (delivered almost gleefully in some corners of the media) has been extraordinarily - and measurably - destructive to our economy.

"Confidence and courage are the essentials of success," Roosevelt says. I think we need a similar message today. And I think Rebecca's echo of JFK is right on: Someone needs to talk about what we all can do for our country.


  1. Great post, Karen. I don't mind govt involvement, however, (see all those books on lax regulation you've posted) and I wish there was WPA encouraging photographers, artists and writers, as there was years ago--

  2. I totally agree, as does everyone else I know. Many sectors of the media thrive on disaster, either real or manufactured. It's scary how many people are so tired of the doom and gloom stories they no longer read or listen to the news at all.

  3. Government does need to be involved - more involved, in fact - but it's an uphill battle these days. I'd like to see all of us called to action in the solution as well.

    I was gratified to see Joe Nocera, NYT op-ed columnist, raise this very issue yesterday:

    as did Warren Buffett last weekend:

  4. AH, honestly, I detected a note of diabolical glee listening to TV reports over the weekend saying, "Will the stock market OPEN EVEN LOWER next week? We'll find out if a DOUBLE DIP in the near future!!"

    Seriously, we don't need to hear that crap constantly trumpeted. If it happens, we'll have ample stats and reports to parse out and they're not here yet.

    But by constantly raising the spectre, it's going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I just think some of these morons like saying "double-dip", frankly.)

  5. We decided as a couple not to read anything to do with the financial "crisis" for the next few months. that being said...i started a biz at the PEAK of the last "recession" and it is happily chugging along. I continue to support friends who watch my biz grow and say you can do it too. we must band together, buy local and save each other in this crisis. I buy what I can from small and local biz and will continue to do so even after this fiasco is over!

  6. Nysha, you do such a wonderful job, truly.

    Totally agree with you re the spirit of cooperation and buying small/local, something I've always done anyway just because I enjoy it and hate the big-box experience!

  7. Ditto everyone.

    I sometimes wonder if the media doesn't perpetuate the problem. It's not fair to lump all journalists into one--I know there are responsible journalists out there--but it's hard to hear them above the shouting. I'm one of the people Hiker mentioned, who turned off the TV and the radio and stopped reading the paper. It's the same damn thing every day anyway, so why bother? I'm much happier and I have less stress and the same income as I did when I was terrified everything was going to fall apart.

    I'm with Nysha. Let's help each other and let the screamers freak each other out to their hearts' content.

  8. I'm in the news biz so I can't tune out, as much as I'd like to at times.

    And honestly, I'm a news junkie (I come from a long line of 'em) so I could never do it for long even if I wanted to.

    Stressful as it is, I feel a responsibility to stay current on the sitch.

  9. Karen, you're one of the ones I always listen to.