Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

The Yin and Yang of Inflation

inflationpicInflation like all risk is a double edge sword. Its negative nature will upset the apple cart and pose uncomfortable challenges for SME managers that have grown accustomed to the status quo.

It will force managers to reconsider their well conceived business plans and perhaps more closely scrutinize this quarters P&L or the company balance sheet. It will present serious challenges for businesses supply chain and client relationships. It may raise the eyebrows of your shareholders and credit providers perhaps provoking some pointed questions concerning your management skills and the validity of your business model.

That said inflation does have an upside. Like all risk factors it has the potential to create opportunities. Inflation will drastically alter market conditions. It will reveal inefficiencies that nimble SME can actively engage and manage to turn those market conditions to their advantage. The key operative words are management, intentionality and active engagement.

Inflation is a silent killer. It stalks all SME threatening to gobble up product margins, revenue opportunities and bottom line profits. It diminishes customer buying power and may threaten the solvency of large customers and suppliers. It drives up the cost of capital, making credit more expensive while it forces state and local governments to raise taxes and fees.

The inflation bogey man lurks in the profit and loss statements of all businesses with SME being particularly vulnerable to its effect. Inflation dramatically shows itself on the expense side of the ledger in the increases for basic materials, energy, delivery services, T&E, administrative expenses and employee benefits. Inflation also affects the income side of the profit loss statement. It erodes the buying power of your customers and threatens collection of receivables by extending days outstanding, increased write offs or the sale of uncollected debt for pennies on the dollar.

SME profitability is particularly sensitive to the effects of inflation because of economies of scale, concentration of risk factors and lack of pricing power.

Many SME lack pricing power. Pricing power suggests that if price of a product rises to a certain level demand for that product will not diminish. For a SME to have pricing power it must offer value add product to dependent buyers. Its product or service cannot be easily replicated or widely available from other sources.

While pricing power escapes most SME numerous factors inhibit their ability to become low cost producers. They deliver product or service differentiation to their customers by other means then low price. Inflation erodes consumer purchasing power driving buyers to seek low cost producers. In this environment SME may suffer when buyers trade down to low cost providers. Key customers may compel SME to lower prices to be more in line with lower cost producers. This is a major threat to SME.

SME tend to have greater risk concentration in their business model. Heightened risk concentrations are most pronounced in small businesses due to a limited product line, geographical risk, market cyclicality and in client and supply chain relationships. Consider a small manufacturer of finished steel products for the home construction industry. Generally, manufactures profitability is highly correlated to the price it pays for basic commodities and has an extremely high concentration of supply chain and product risk. Small businesses may not be able to recover or adjust its product prices to cover increased commodity prices due to existing contractual agreements with customers or its lack of pricing power. The abatement of market demand due to a recession may provoke larger customers to demand price concessions by threatening to move their business to lower cost producers. The pressure on this small manufacturer is compounded by a spike of smaller account losses and moribund demand due to weak cyclical market conditions in its target market.

It’s almost a perfect storm of negative business conditions. Small businesses managers need to understand how inflation touches all aspects of their business and must manage its impact to maintain profitability and sustainable growth.

Managing Inflation Risk with a WIN Campaign

SME can meet the challenge of inflation head on by implementing a Whip Inflation Now (WIN) program that engages the numerous risks inflation poses. In deference to our former President Gerald Ford, business managers can initiate WIN Programs and actions to temper the impact of inflation and to seize opportunities that rapidly changing market conditions create. Small businesses must be extra vigilant and proactive in managing all classes of business risks.

Some small businesses will cave into the demands of their large accounts to cut prices to prevent them from going to a lower cost provider. This is very dangerous for small businesses and can result in “death by a thousand cuts.” Managers should not wait for their largest account to approach them seeking price concessions. Now is the perfect time to go on the offensive and alter the value proposition that only your firm can uniquely deliver to key accounts. Remember your largest accounts are experiencing the negative effects of inflation as well. Go to them and propose a WIN Campaign.

A company’s WIN Campaign can offer a joint marketing program using advanced web enabled technologies. Your WIN Campaign can implement an expanded training and support program tied to a business development program or supply chain rationalization. You may suggest a partnership to develop a new product or put in place a customer loyalty program. Your job is to create a unique value proposition that adds value to your product and convey it to your customer so they cannot commoditize your product. Together you and your clients can WIN the fight against inflation and turn it into a business development initiative. Your clients will appreciate the fact that you are thinking about their business success.

Another common knee jerk reaction to fight rising business costs is to reduce expenses by cutting expenditures on areas that do not support the mission critical functions of the business. Capital is allocated to maintain funding to support sales, production and product delivery. This is coupled with a lean administrative management structure and this model is seen as a recipe for economic survival. Being good stewards of corporate capital is essential during these times. Capital leakage is always a threat to business profitability and needs to be even more diligently managed during times of economic duress. But this strategy is a subsistence survival strategy. It is based on investing the barest minimum of capital to address fluctuating market conditions. This strategy may limit small businesses ability to literally capitalize on opportunities that changing market conditions present.

Cutting expenses for marketing is usually another budget casualty when businesses look to cut costs. This will reduce your current expense line for this quarter and will certainly help bottom line profitability; but skipping this year’s trade show will not help you to locate that new customer who is looking for a supplier because his current provider is struggling with product quality issues. Cutting this expense won’t provide you with the critical insights you need to stay competitive and ahead of new market entrants that are attending trade shows. Who by the way are also aggressively courting your largest account to get just a tiny slice of your business to demonstrate their “superior value proposition.”

Employee benefits and training is another area that is often the focus of budgetary cutbacks. Many SME need to closely consider the gains they will realize by cutting back on benefits offered to its employees. Cutting benefits could increase employee turnover. Training and hiring new employees are an expensive proposition for SME. The loss of key employees can potentially devastate a small business. Expertise, intellectual capital and critical business intelligence leaves the organization when a key employee walks out the door. This is doubly true if some key employees leave the firm and walk some major client relationships out the door with them.

SME can also try to employ risk transfer strategies. Insurance purchases may help in some areas but to fight inflation small businesses can use financial instruments (capital permitting) to hedge against rising prices. The purchase of TIPs, FX forward contracts, commodity or energy futures can help to offset the negative effects of key inflation business threats. As the price of oil rose this summer a modest equity position in oil or other energy company would have helped to offset the increase in energy expenses.

Thankfully adverse economic conditions will force SME to take an honest look at their product lines and business model. Economic adversity provides an opportunity for management to make hard decisions concerning product lines. This is an ideal time to focus and fund the development of products that offer the greatest potential for long term profitability and sustainable growth.

Inflation is a significant problem for small businesses but it is a problem that can be managed. Changing economic conditions alter the landscape for all businesses that accelerate and starkly reveal market inefficiencies. These inefficiencies create market anomalies and opportunities that astute small business owners and managers can capitalize on through an intentional practice of a risk management and opportunity discovery program.

Sum2’s objective is to assist clients to implement corporate sound practices that enhance profitability and sustainable growth. Sum2’s offers a wide stable of risk management apps for SME. The Macroeconomic Risk Assessment App helps managers review macroeconomic and event risks to better manage its potential effect on their business. Sum2 offers a Macroeconomic Risk App and can be downloaded from Google Play or by visiting http://www.sum2.com or by calling us at 973.287.7535.

risk: #sme, #inflation, #macroeconomic, #supplychain #office365, #mobileoffice, #metasme, #smeiot #eventrisk, #marketrisk, #WIN, #sum2

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July 21, 2014 Posted by | banking, customer risk, economics, inflation, SME | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Data for a Small World: SMEIoT

smeiotIoT

The world is a great big database and algorithmic wizards and mad data scientists are burning the midnight oil to mine the perplexing infinities of ubiquitous data points.  Their goal is to put data to use to facilitate better governance, initiate pinpoint marketing campaigns, pursue revelatory academic research and improve the quality of service public agencies deliver to protect and serve communities. The convergence of Big Data, Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) make this possible.

The earth is the mother of all relational databases.  It’s six billion inhabitants track many billions of real time digital footprints across the face of the globe each and every day.  Some footprints are readily apparent and easy to see.  Facebook likes, credit card transactions, name and address lists, urgent Tweets and public records sparkle like alluvial diamonds; all easily plucked by data aggregators and sold to product marketers at astonishing profit margins.  Other data points are less apparent, hidden or derived in the incessant hum of the ever listening, ever recording global cybersphere.   These are the digital touch points we knowingly and unknowingly create with our interactions with the world wide web and the machines that live there.

It is estimated that there is over 20 billion smart machines that are fully integrated into our lives.  These machines stay busy creating digital footprints; adding quantitative context to the quality of the human condition.  EZ Passes, RFID tags, cell phone records, location tracking, energy meters, odometers, auto dashboard idiot lights, self diagnostic fault tolerant machines, industrial process controls, seismographic, air and water quality apparatuses and the streaming CBOT digital blips flash the milliseconds of a day in the life of John Q. Public.  Most sentient beings pay little notice, failing to consider that someone somewhere is planting the imprints of our daily lives in mammoth disk farms.  The webmasters, data engineers and information scientists are collecting, collating, aggregating, scoring and analyzing these rich gardens of data to harvest an accurate psychographic portrait of modernity.

The IoT is the term coined to describe the new digital landscape we inhabit.  The ubiquitous nature of the internet, the continued rationalization of the digital economy into the fabric of society and the absolute dependency of daily life upon it, require deep consideration how it impacts civil liberties, governance, cultural vibrancy and economic well being.

The IoT is the next step in the development of the digital economy. By 2025 it is estimated that IoT will drive $6 Trillion in global economic activity.  This anoints data and information as the loam of the modern global economy; no less significant than the arrival of discrete manufacturing at the dawn of industrial capitalism.

The time may come when a case may be made that user generated data is a commodity and should be considered a public domain natural resource; but today it is the province of digirati  shamans entrusted to interpret the Rosetta Stones, gleaning deep understanding of the current reality while deriving high probability predictive futures.  IoT is one of the prevailing drivers of global social development.


SME

There is another critical economic and socio-political driver of the global economy.  Small Mid-Sized Enterprises (SME) are the cornerstone of job creation in developed economies.  They form the bedrock of subsistence and economic activity in lesser developed countries (LDC).  They are the dynamic element of capitalism.  SME led by courageous risk takers are the spearhead of capital formation initiatives.  Politicians, bureaucrats and business pundits extol their entrepreneurial zeal and hope to channel their youthful energy in service to local and national political aspirations.  The establishment of SME is a critical macroeconomic indicator of a country’s economic health and the wellspring of social wealth creation.

The World Bank/ IFC estimates that over 130 million registered SME inhabit the global economy. The definition of an SME varies by country. Generally an SME and MSME (Micro Small Mid Sized Enterprises)  are defined by two measures, number of employees or annual sales.  Micro enterprises are defined as employing less than 9 employees, small up to 100 employees and medium sized enterprises anywhere from 200 to 500 employees.  Defining SMEs by sales scale in a similar fashion.

Every year millions of startup businesses replace the millions that have closed.  The world’s largest economy United States boasts over 30 million SME and every year over one million  small businesses close.  The EU and OECD countries report similar statistics of the preponderance of SME and numbers of business closures.

The SME is a dynamic non homogeneous business segment.  It is highly diverse in character, culture and business model heavily colored by local influence and custom. SME is overly sensitive to macroeconomic risk factors and market cyclicality.  Risk is magnified in the SME franchise due to high concentration of risk factors.  Over reliance on a limited set of key clients or suppliers, product obsolescence, competitive pressures, force majeure events, key employee risk, change management and credit channel dependencies are glaring risk factors magnified by business scale and market geographics.

In the United States, during the banking crisis the Federal Reserve was criticized for pursuing policies that favored large banking and capital market participants while largely ignoring SME. To mitigate contagion risk, The Federal Reserve  quickly acted to pump liquidity into the banking sector to buttress the capital structure of SIFI (Systemically Important Financial Institutions). It was thought that a collateral benefit would be the stimulation of SME lending.  This never occurred as SBA backed loans nosedived. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner implemented the TARP and TALF programs to further strengthen the capital base of distressed banks as former Fed Chairman  Ben Bernanke pursued Quantitative Easing to transfer troubled mortgage backed securities onto Uncle Sams balance sheet to relieve financial institutions  of these troubled assets. Some may argue that President Obama’s The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)  helped the SME sector.  The $800 billion stimulus was one third tax cuts, one third cash infusion to local governments and one third capital expenditures aimed at shovel ready infrastructure improvement projects.  The scale of the ARRA was miniscule as compared to support rendered to banks and did little to halt the deteriorating macroeconomic conditions of the collapsing housing market, ballooning unemployment and rising energy prices severely stressing SME.

The EU offered no better.  As the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain) economies collapsed the European Central Bank forced draconian austerity measures on national government expenditures undermining key SME market sensitivities.  On both sides of the Atlantic, the perception of a bifurcated central banking policy that favored TBTF Wall Street over the needs of  an atomized SME segment flourished.  The wedge between the speculative economy of Wall Street and the real economy on Main Street remains a festering wound.

In contrast to the approach of western central bankers, Asian Tigers, particularly Singapore have created a highly  supportive environment for the incubation and development of SME. Banks offer comprehensive portfolios of financial products and SME advisory services. Government legislative programs highlight incubation initiatives linked to specific industry sectors. Developed economies have much to learn from these SME friendly market leaders.

The pressing issues concerning net neutrality, ecommerce tax policies, climate change and the recognition of Bitcoin as a valid commercial specie are critical developments that goes to the heart of a healthy global SME community.  These emerging market events are benevolent business drivers for SME and concern grows that legislative initiatives are being drafted to codify advantages for politically connected larger enterprises.

Many view this as a manifestation of a broken political system, rife with protections of large well financed politically connected institutions. Undermining these entrenched corporate interests is the ascending digital paradigm promising to dramatically alter business as usual politics. Witness the role of social media in the Arab Spring, Barack Obama’s 2008 election or the decapitalization of the print media industry as clear signals of the the passing away of the old order of things.  Social networking technologies and the democratization of information breaks down the ossified monopolies of knowledge access. These archaic ramparts are being gleefully overthrown by open collaborative initiatives levelling the playing field for all market participants.

SMEIoT

This is where SMEIoT neatly converges.  To effectively serve an efficient market, transparency and a contextual understanding of its innate dynamics are critical preconditions to market participation.  The incubation of SME and the underwriting of capital formation initiatives from a myriad of providers will occur as information standards provide a level of transparency that optimally aligns risk and investment capital. SMEIoT will provide the insights to the sector for SME to grow and prosper while industry service providers engage SME within the context of a cooperative economic non-exploitative relationship.

This series will examine SME and how IoT will serve to transform and incubate the sector.  We’ll examine the typology of the SME ecosystem, its risk characteristics and features.  We’ll propose a metadata framework to model SME descriptors, attributes, risk factors and a scoring methodology.  We’ll propose an SME portal, review the mission of Big Data and its indispensable role to create cooperative economic frameworks within the SME ecosystem. Lastly we’ll review groundbreaking work social scientists, legal scholars and digital frontier activists are proposing to address best governance practices and ethical considerations of Big Data collection, the protection of privacy rights,  informed consent, proprietary content and standards of accountability.

SMEIoT coalesces at the intersection of social science, commerce and technology.  History has aligned SMEIot building blocks to create the conditions for this exciting convergence.  Wide participation of government agencies, academicians, business leaders, scientists and ethicists will be required to make pursuit of  this science serve the greatest good.

 

This is the first in a series of articles on Big Data and SMEIoT . It originally appeared in Daftblogger eJournal. Next piece in series is scheduled to appear on Daftblogger eJournal within the next two weeks.

#smeiot #metasme #sum2llc #sme #office365 #mobileoffice #TARP #capitalformation #IoT #internetofthings #OECD #TBTF #Bitcoin #psychographics #smeportals #bigdata #informedconsent

July 9, 2014 Posted by | banking, Bernanke, commerce, commercial, credit crisis, economics, ethics, Internet of Things, IoT, politics, risk management, SME, SMEIOT, Sum2, sustainability, TALF, TARP, Treasury | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Then They Came For Me

The ones shouting loudest with greatest vehemency for liberty are ironically the proponents of its gravest threat.   Rep. Peter King, the Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee has scheduled hearings on the radicalization of the US Muslim community and its threat to the homeland.  Mr. King said the hearings are the result of a growing concern by law enforcement officials that the US Muslim community has not been cooperative in rooting out the home grown terrorists multiplying within their midst.  In service to liberty’s highest ideals, the ever vigilant Mr. King looks to initiate an assault on the civil liberties of our brother and sister Muslim citizens.

A group calling themselves The Liberty Alliance  are in full support of Mr. King’s ethnic profiling and the grave threat it poses to the civil liberties of all citizens.  Mr. King’s committee hearings will be a resplendent grand standing platform for him to play to the basest prejudices of his constituency and stoke up the fear of American angst already overloaded with a symphony of terrors.  Muslims, like the LGBT community and illegal aliens, labor unions and teachers make convenient scapegoats for the myriad problems confronting the nation.  Mr. King and The Liberty Alliance would like us to believe that labor unions have plundered the wealth of the nation.  Teachers have destroyed the schools.  The poor have bankrupted our federal treasury while the LGBT and foreigners continue to undermine the true American Judeo-Christian culture by defiling the purity of its heritage.

Its a grand irony to witness self styled libertarians mobilized into action to attack civil liberties and right to privacy of their fellow citizens.  They clamor for disclosure and transparency with the diabolical refrain,  “if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to be afraid of.” Such seditious thinking undermines the spirit of liberty.  It is a direct assault on a  society governed by laws and its citizens shielded by due process and protected by a Bill of Rights.  These democratic virtues once distinguished America as the shinning  city on a hill.  Now The Liberty Alliance denigrates it with an Orwellian platitude believing civil rights, privacy and due process are covers for terrorist cells that must be dispensed with at all costs.

It is not difficult to divine that  Peter King’s committee will encourage a number of informants to come forward to meet a specified quota for stool pigeonry.   A legion of rats and informants are the armies of despots not agents of democracies.  But these are the same Real American Freedom Fighters who led the charge against American Muslim’s right to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero.  Ask them about religious tolerance and the freedom to worship as guaranteed in the US Constitution and they’ll concede the point with the promise to serve Halal meals and build a mosque with extra capacity at Gitmo.

The ones shouting the loudest for liberty do indeed pose the greatest threat to it.  The libertarians who opened the door to 527 llcs have turned Lady Liberty into a common prostitute hiring her out to the highest bidder.  The zealots waving the Constitution with the fervor of a Red Book sprouting Maoist, forms a reactionary vanguard eager to deny the very same sacred civil liberties and rights to fellow citizens in their deranged constitutional republic of unfree and unequal citizens.

Despots and non-democratic societies do not offer or practice universal rights, freedoms and liberties for all its citizens.  Pitting one group against another, scape goating, delineating special classes of people or dual classes of citizenship are hallmarks of repressive societies.  Mr. King’s committee hearing of racial and ethnic profiling divides citizens and denies the constitutional  rights and liberties for Muslims.  This is apartheid.  Gov. Walker’s and Chris Christie’s attack on labor unions and teachers as the source of our economic debasement obfuscates systemic inequities and masks the identities of the perpetrators who plundered the wealth of this nation.  The economic elites are trying to beat the rap by forcing their public elected shills to make the working people of America pay the price for their own victimization.

Peter King’s sons of liberty are complicit agents of enslavement to the power and privilege of corporate oligarchs; hiding behind the billowing smoke of America’s civic strife and brewing internecine struggle.  They are gravely mistaken in believing that they are safely ensconced behind the golden walls of their enclaves the piles of cash allowed them to build to protect themselves  from the seething masses. Mubarak nor Gaddafi’s moat protected strongholds could protect them from the volatile tide of history.

Peter King opening up hearings on radical Islam and its role in creating home grown terrorism is of course just in time for the 2012 election.  It will provide some red meat for rabid Teabaggers screaming for blood.  Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin and other righteous Falangist Crusaders can use the grist of Peter King’s xenophobic fear mill to paint our Mau Mau  loving President and any progressive opponent a Fifth Columnist for the new Caliphate they are working to establish in the last stand of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

You Tube Video:  James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy

Risk: tolerance, politics, civil liberties, Bill of Rights

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Civil Rights, class, conservatism, culture, democracy, economics, ethnic, faith, gay rights, government, labor unions, LGBT, Muslim, Palin, psychology, race, republicans, social justice, Tea Party, teaching, unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Economic Recovery Gathers Steam

Private-sector employment increased by 217,000 from January to February on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the latest ADP National Employment Report released today. The estimated change of employment from December 2010 to January 2011 was revised up to 189,000 from the previously reported increase of 187,000. This month’s ADP National Employment Report suggests continued solid growth of nonfarm private employment early in 2011. The recent pattern of rising employment gains since the middle of last year was reinforced by today’s report, as the average gain from December through February (217,000) is well above the average gain over the prior six months (63,000).

The fears of a jobless recovery may be receding but the US economy has a long way to go before pre-recession employment levels are achieved. As we stated previously the economy needs to create over 200,000 jobs per month for 48 consecutive months to achieve pre-recession employment levels. The six month average of 63,000 is still well below the required rate of job creation for a robust recovery to occur. The Unemployment Rate still exceeds 9%.

The February report is encouraging because it points to an accelerating pace of job creation. The post Christmas season employment surge represents a 30,000 job gain over January’s strong report that triples the six month moving average. The service sector accounted for over 200,000 of the job gains. The manufacturing and goods producing sector combined to create 35,000 jobs. Construction continues to mirror the moribund housing market shedding an additional 9,000 jobs during the month. The construction industry has lost over 2.1 million jobs since its peak in 2008.

The robust recovery in the service sector is welcomed but sustainable economic growth can only be achieved by a robust turn around in the goods producing and manufacturing sectors. Service sector jobs offer lower wages, tend to be highly correlated to retail consumer spending and positions are often transient in nature. Small and Mid-Sized Enterprises (SME) is where the highest concentration of service jobs are created and the employment figures bear that out with SMEs accounting for over 204,000 jobs created during the month of February.

Large businesses added 13,000 jobs during the month of February. The balance sheets of large corporations are strong. The great recession provided large corporates an opportunity to rationalize their business franchise with layoffs, consolidations and prudent cost management. Benign inflation, global presence, outsourcing, low cost of capital and strong equity markets created ideal conditions for profitability and an improved capital structure. The balance sheets of large corporations are flush with $1 trillion in cash and it appears that the large corporates are deploying this capital resource into non-job creating initiatives.

The restructuring of the economy continues. The Federal stimulus program directed massive funds to support fiscally troubled state and local government budgets. The Federal Stimulus Program was a critical factor that help to stabilize local government workforce levels. The expiration of the Federal stimulus program is forcing state and local governments into draconian measures to balance budgets. Government employment levels are being dramatically pared back to maintain fiscal stability. Public service workers unions are under severe pressure to defend employment, compensation and benefits of workers in an increasingly conservative political climate that insists on fiscal conservatism and is highly adverse to any tax increase.

The elimination of government jobs, the expiration of unemployment funds coupled with rising interest rates, energy and commodity prices will drain significant buying power from the economy and create additional headwinds for the recovery.

Macroeconomic Factors

The principal macroeconomic factors confronting the economy are the continued high unemployment rate, weakness in the housing market, tax policy and deepening fiscal crisis of state, local and federal governments. The Tea Party tax rebellion has returned congress to Republican control and will encourage the federal government to pursue fiscally conservative policies that will dramatically cut federal spending and taxes for the small businesses and the middle class. In the short term, spending cuts in federal programs will result in layoffs, and cuts in entitlement programs will remove purchasing power from the demand side of the market. It is believed that the tax cuts to businesses will provide the necessary incentive for SME’s to invest capital surpluses back into the company to stimulate job creation.

The growing uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa is a significant political risk factor. The expansion of political instability in the Gulf Region particularly Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; a protracted civil war in Libya or a reignited regional conflict involving Israel would have a dramatic impact on oil markets; sparking a rise in commodity prices and interest rates placing additional stress on economic recovery.

Political uncertainty tends to heighten risk aversion in credit markets. The financial rescue of banks with generous capital infusions and accommodating monetary policies from sovereign governments has buttressed the profitability and capital position of banks. Regulatory uncertainty of Basel III, Dodd-Frank, and the continued rationalization of the commercial banking system and continued concern about the quality of credit portfolios continue to curtail availability of credit for SME lending. Governments are encouraging banks to lend more aggressively but banks continue to exercise extreme caution in making loans to financially stressed and capital starved SMEs.

Highlights of the ADP Report for February include:

Private sector employment increased by 217,000

Employment in the service-providing sector rose 202,000

Employment in the goods-producing sector declined 15,000

Employment in the manufacturing sector declined 20,000

Construction employment declined 9,000

Large businesses with 500 or more workers declined 2,000

Medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers increased 24,000

Employment among small-size businesses with fewer than 50 workers, increased 21,000

Overview of Numbers

The 202,000 jobs created by the SME sectors represents over 90% of new job creation. Large businesses comprise approximately 20% of the private sector employment and continues to underperform SMEs in post recession job creation. The strong growth of service sector though welcomed continues to mask the under performance of the manufacturing sector. The 11 million manufacturing jobs comprise approximately 10% of the private sector US workforce. The 20 thousand jobs created during February accounted for 10% of new jobs. Considering the severely distressed condition and capacity utilization of the sector and the favorable conditions for export markets and cost of capital the job growth of the sector appears extremely weak. The US economy is still in search of a driver. The automotive manufacturers have returned to profitability due to global sales in Latin America and China with a large portion of the manufacturing done in local oversea markets.

The stock market continues to perform well. The Fed is optimistic that the QE2 initiative will allay bankers credit risk concerns and ease lending restrictions to SMEs. A projected GDP growth rate of 3% appears to be an achievable goal. The danger of a double dip recession is receding but severe geopolitical risk factors continue to keep the possibility alive.

Interest rates have been at historic lows for two years and will begin to notch upward as central bankers continue to manage growth with a mix of inflation and higher costs of capital. The stability of the euro and the EU’s sovereign debt crisis will remain a concern and put upward pressure on interest rates and the dollar.

As the price of commodities and food spikes higher the potential of civil unrest and political instability in emerging markets of Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America grows. Some even suggest this instability may touch China.

The balance sheets of large corporate entities remain flush with cash. The availability of distressed assets and volatile markets will encourage corporate treasurers to put that capital to work to capitalize on emerging opportunities. The day of the lazy corporate balance sheet is over.

Solutions from Sum2

Credit Redi offers SMEs tools to manage financial health and improve corporate credit rating to attract and minimize the cost of capital. Credit Redi helps SMEs improve credit standing and demonstrate to bankers that you are a good credit risk.

For information on the construction and use of the ADP Report, please visit the methodology section of the ADP National Employment Report website.

You Tube Video: John Handy, Hard Work

Risk: unemployment, recession, recovery, SME, political

March 3, 2011 Posted by | commerce, credit, Credit Redi, economics, government, lending, manufacturing, recession, risk management, SME, taxation, Tea Party, unemployment, unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Puddenhead Wilson and the Jersey Doughboy

When Joe Wilson belched his infamous catcall “lair” during President Obama’s address to a joint session of the legislature, he revealed himself to be a poor example of a mature adult. Puddenhead Wilson’s emotional outburst may have played well with die hard Obama haters, indeed the next day his campaign war chest swelled by a million dollars; but it also sent a terrible message to America’s youth that its acceptable to disrespect your teachers, coaches, police officers or parents if you disagree with what they are saying. The fact that his campaign coffers swelled with contributions as a result of his offense compounded the power of the negative message it sent to youths and to the perpetrator himself. Awarding Puddenhead Wilson for his bad conduct only encourages him to repeat his offensive disrespectful behavior. It also sends a very poor message to America’s youth that bad behavior is OK and childish emotional outbursts may in fact find reward from enabling adults.

New Jersey Governor and emerging GOP superstar Chris Cristie, recently revealed himself to be a poor role model for the youth of America when he told a gathering of students that teachers greed was to blame for the lack of supplies and educational resources available for public schools.  The Governors injection of politics into his presentation to Trenton students is a bit ironic.  In his crusade against the teachers union, Christie  has charged educators with using school children as “drug mules” to carry the message about the danger of funding reductions for public education.   It would seem that the good Governor Christie needs to deliver a couple of kilos of his own to his adoring fans in the Tea Party and his financial backers in the GOP.

Putting partisan politics aside Christie’s message to public school students is extremely damaging.  The public schools are under incredible pressure.  All social institutions are engulfed in severe challenges and are fully engaged in crisis management mode.  America’s public schools are  not exempted from these pressures.  The complex confluence of political, cultural and economic factors plaguing society are acutely manifested and constantly working to undermine the public school system.  Governor Christie’s political rant to students throws gasoline on a combustible pile of institutional challenges confronting teachers and administrators.  Like Puddenhead Wilson, the Jersey Doughboy gives tacit approval and encouragement for students to question the authority and motives of their teachers.  Christie has just provided under-performing students a ready made excuse for failure and disruptive malcontents a lit match to throw onto a gasoline soaked pile of kindling encircling our public schools.

Christie’s partisanship places the context of his egregious mismanagement of the Race to the Top DOE grant in a new light.  Perhaps Christie’s $400 million blunder was an intentional action to reduce resources to the public schools to undermine greedy  teachers and their gluttonous union.  Why would Christie enable the funding of whip cracking greed driven drug mule drivers?  And like his killing of the DOT funded  ARC tunnel project, Christie enhances his conservative street cred by punching the construction unions in the nose and telling the socialist government in Washington to spend its money elsewhere.

Like Puddenhead Wilson,  Christie is cashing in on his actions and is building a nice portfolio of economic and political capital for himself.  His remarks about the greedy teachers provide a convenient cover and solemn absolution for the grand practitioners of greed and avarice that have led this country to the brink of fiscal insolvency, cultural destitution and political bankruptcy.  Christie’s narrative of blaming the needy plays well with large contributors who will be moved to put good 527 Corporation resources at his disposal to underwrite his political rise.

Christie’s midterm election barnstorming tour in service to the GOP booked him on a coast to coast tour that even his hero Bruce Springsteen would envy.  Though Christie’s mojo clearly failed in helping Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina win election,  the Jersey Doughboy’s political stock has risen so quickly that he felt compelled to send out a few tweets to deny he would run on a ticket with Sarah Palin for president in 2012.

So New Jersey is stuck with the doughy mess of big money winner take all partisan politics of Christie’s ideologically driven governorship for at least the next two years.  Enjoying popular support for now, Christie’s considerable body mass currently displaces enough water to ride the wave of Tea Party conservatism.  But if the fickle citizens of New Jersey make a slight left turn off Exit 16E on Thunder Road,  Christie’s fortunes will drop faster then a lead sinker placed into the rancid brew seeping to perfection in a gaudy Royal Dalton Tea Pot.

You Tube Music Video: Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (Live Acoustic Version)

Risk: political, labor unions, public education, consensus

November 15, 2010 Posted by | conservatism, culture, democracy, economics, elections, government, institutional, labor unions, Obama, philosophy, politics, republicans, Tea Party, unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Forth Estate Crosses Over

There is this program that runs on the WE Cable Network.  It’s called Crossing Over with Jonathan Edwards.   Jonathan Edwards is a psychic medium.  He stands in front of a live gathering of 75 people and tunes into psychic vibes emanating through the audience.  The vibes are messages from deceased loved ones who have crossed over the Acheron.  The dead are keen to communicate warnings, good wishes and assurances to assist living  loved ones on how to navigate the tricky vicissitudes of life.   During the show, Jonathan walks about the room picking up on celestial chatter and begins to relay and interpret a soliloquy of the dead like a macabre game of supernatural telephone. Jonathan Edwards asks his audience to suspend all disbelief as he bestrides the nexus of the metaphysical spirit world and the pedestrian reality that most earthlings inhabit.

The most common messages the dead channel through Jonathan seek to absolve the anxiety and guilt of the tormented living.  Crossing Over is popular because it offers its audience an  absolution, confirms personal cosmology and rationalizes the pursuit of desires by affirming the consequences of decisions as a self fulfilling prophecy.  It safely places its audience in a self validating cosmic echo chamber.  Its an ongoing morality tale with only happy endings and unfortunately only a tenuous connection to authenticity and objective truth.

The state of the news media industry is very much like Crossing Over.  The Forth Estate once thought of as an objective arbiter, information dispersant and truth seeking medium it is now chosen and consumed as a branded version of reality.

The devastating earthquake that buried Haitians in heaps of rubble unleashed global battalions of news teams to cover the event.  Many of the news crews from large established networks beat first responders to the scene.  In some cases the arrival of news teams actually held up the arrival of rescue teams and supplies because the airfield and crowed airspace could not accommodate all the traffic.  The news teams were forced to hole up at the airport because blocked roads prohibited them from going anywhere.  I recall Robin Roberts and the GMA News team dodging fork lifts and supply trucks left with nothing more to do then to urgently interview themselves.  Correspondents were reduced to ghoulishly opining about the tragedy while eagerly mugging for the cameras with contorted faces to portray the human tragedy unfolding beyond the range of their cameras.

GMA’s presence added nothing and in fact inhibited rescue efforts.  I thought of all the drinkable water these crews consumed could have been used to quench the thirst of Haitians dying from dehydration. Thankfully the GMA News team soon left after spending a self indulgent weekend at the airport. Their moral outrage registered and attempt at ratings grab accomplished.  Their contribution to shedding light on the scope of this tragedy and placing it in a larger context of its meaning to the global community of nations was lost in deference to the tragedy’s emotional impact on GMA reporters.  For GMA the subjective condition of the emotional distress of their media stars had become the story.   Their viewers must have figured that if GMA’s News celebrities were hurting this story must be big.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta was an example of how a newsman became part of the story in a positive way.  I recall with great admiration watching a camera crew following Dr. Gupta as he walked amidst the rubble of Port-Au-Prince.  He learned of the location of a hospital and went to investigate how it was delivering services to the injured.  Upon his arrival Dr. Gupta discovered the make shift hospital was little more then injured people being placed in the hallway of a building.  The dead were being stacked outside by a wall surrounding the compound.  The hospital had no doctors, nurses, beds or supplies.  The facility lacked water to clean wounds or salve thirst.  What the hospital did have was a constant stream of wounded arriving in greater numbers desperate for any type of care.  The scale of the quake, the massive amounts of injured victims and the overwhelmed capacity of  the hospitals ability to respond was reported in stark clarity.

Dr. Gupta was overwhelmed by parents cradling their broken children.  Dr. Gupta a licensed medical doctor took off his correspondent hat and put on his stethoscope.  He honored his Hippocratic Oath and started treating babies and the wounded with whatever he could cobble together.  Dr. Gupta was no longer a journalist but was now a doctor.  He asked that the cameras stop rolling so he could perform his duties as a doctor.  I’ll never forget the look on Dr. Gupta’s face.  It spoke volumes about the desperate conditions he was confronting and the firm resolve that he would perform his duties as a trained physician under trying almost impossible circumstances.

We could understand Dr. Gupta’s crossover from journalist to doctor.  It was proper and correct response as a human being but as a journalist all objectivity had been lost and in many respects Dr. Gupta had become the story in a constellation of a million stories emanating from the epicenter of one of the great human tragedies of the past century.  This is a departure from the norm of real time documentary reportage.  I can’t tell you how many documentaries I came away from cursing the producers and cameramen for doing nothing to prevent the baby wildebeest from being  consumed by the lion pack or for failing to offer a family of refugees in Darfur a bottle of water or a ride on their jeep to escape the marauding  Janjaweed.

News Corps, network media division Fox News belies the myth of the monolithic liberal mainstream media and its claim of balance in its marketing handle.   Fox News may offer a fair presentment of the news to its conservative viewership but its claim of balance that suggests the inclusion of a liberal perspective in their news product is specious.

Fox News really came of age following 9/11 and the growing conservative drift of the nation. Its useless to posit weather Fox News created the conservative drift or developed programming to market to this political demographic; but the political inclinations of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch have always been decidedly conservative.  At its founding in 1996, Fox News started differentiating itself from the liberal mainstream media by supporting the Republican impeachment drive of President Clinton, effectively  setting the stage for its partisan approach to reporting the news.  In many respects its unabashed partisanship was a game changer in how news and information was being packaged, positioned and delivered in the emerging narrow casting market paradigm.   Its sentiment not very different from the golden days of yellow journalism practiced by William Randolph Hearst.

Liberals and progressives have criticized News Corp for its lack of objectivity and  balance.  Many believe it to be the official party organ of the Republican Party and its compromised coverage is more akin to propaganda then news.  I believe this to be true as well.  Fox News has countered that it provides both news and opinion.  Fox News employs many of the leading conservative voices.  Karl Rove, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee are senior GOP members on the payroll of Fox News.  They regularly appear on shows hosted by Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity who are conservative celebrities in their own right.  The trick is discerning what is news and what constitutes opinion and editorial content.  The line that demarcates them is increasingly a fine one.  Even the innocuous news blurbs scrolling along the bottom of the TV screen seep in partisanship.  Some may report objective facts like the closing level of the Dow or the latest sports score. These little factoids appear alongside pieces that consistently reinforce the conservative credo of the network.  Its also a practice for commentators like Karl Rove to opine on stories covered on news segments.  The pundits impassioned analysis of the story leaves the listener little room to doubt the interpretation as a validation of the viewers conservative  political sentiments and ideological disposition.  The ability to distinguish fact from opinion becomes increasingly lost in these clouds of obfuscation.

As the model of creating, packaging and marketing partisan news the advent of Glenn Beck as a political entertainer is symptomatic of the maturation of the industry.  Glenn Beck’s show is more of a political reeducation camp that tries to provide low information voters and political neophytes with a more robust framework to understand the history and philosophy of conservatism.  Beck extends the Fox News portfolio of infotainment products.

Beck’s role in encouraging the formation of the Tea Party expands the footprint of News Corp.  Some may consider this crosses the line into political activism but I believe it to be a highly developed form of call and response direct marketing.  Beck’s incessant rants about the imminent collapse of  American democracy, the downfall of free market capitalism and the advocacy of the purchase of gold to hedge against these terrible prospects has attracted  the sponsorship of gold marketers and other fear merchants living large and minting major coin in the time of terror.

Fox is not alone in this sin.  CNBC profited from the pre-crash market run-up and had a vested interest in fueling market speculation and excess.  The business channel owned and operated by NBC  took some heat on this issue in the wake of the market meltdown.  During the market run-ups and the creation of the numerous market bubbles CNBC was taken to task for its roll as a biased shill in creating a risk averse mania that fed into the speculative orgy.  The encouragement of reckless behavior would cost investors and Main Street citizens a good portion of their retirement savings.  Jon Stewart took on CNBC celebrity Jim Cramer for his role in stoking unhealthy speculation. The claim of caveat emptor is not a sufficient disclaimer to absolve CNBC of this perceived wrong doing.  Information and data is the fuel that powers the capital market engine and viewers perceived CNBC to be a critical channel for this type of decision support data and analysis.  As animated red bulls flashed across the TV screen screaming “buy buy buy” the speculative urge feeding the demon greed of Cramer’s viewers jumped at the prospect to secure easy profits and pushed the execute button to route a flood of orders to E-Trade.

Media outlets were not alone in profiting from the conflict of interest in their business model.  The rating agencies Moody’s, Standard and Poors and other issuers of financial health assessments were roundly criticized for a business model that accepted fees from companies  to determine their investment ratings investors use to judge safety and soundness of the companies securities.  Investment banking institutions like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley ran into trouble for trading securities that they advised their clients to hold in investment portfolios.  Large commercial banks have also been called on the carpet for the inherent conflict of interest in their mortgage lending business that integrated mortgage underwriters, originators, servicers, securitizers and investors under a single roof.

Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission has given corporations a megaphone to direct enormous amounts of capital and influence on Americas political culture.  The exponential growth of the political industrial complex places media companies on the cusp of an emerging market.  News Corp occupies a well defined franchise in the vortex of this growth industry.  News Corp will be the predominant media channel attracting politically sponsored advertising from 527 corporations to advocate issues central to the conservative agenda.  The market for political theater is strong and growing and News Corp has one of the hottest theatrical properties in celebrities like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

If Fox News bends and packages information with selected editing in support of political narrative; Andrew “NAACP” Breitbart and James “ACORN” O’Keefe edits news to create a false narrative to affirm ideology.  The omnipresent  multi-channel digital world and the need for consistent real time affirmation justifies entrapment and libel as fair game in the political narrative. The specious political ethics of radical entitlement, means justify ends, medium is the message and relativistic ethics is the next step of  an ideologically mature ,technologically enabled infotainment industry.  The self affirming echo chamber that verifies fact and swears to any truth is blessed with selective amnesia and a self correcting mechanism of  a highly refined subjective fact checker informed by extreme prejudice.

Jon Stewart  use of satire and exaggeration to make a lager point of clarified and reified truth is old school stuff.  In the Age of the Avatar,  the real, the imagined, the intended and the manifested get confused in the digital clouds of form, delivery and content. The medium is the message, the network is the computer and Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity was a marketing event to stake a claim on the market of moderation.  No doubt a highly educated discerning market segment with lots of disposable income.  Its only downside its getting a little long in the tooth.

The Forth Estate is rapidly evolving due the dramatic changes in technology, market structure, business model and consumer consciousness.  The role of the free press and the constitutional protections it enjoys in a democratic society is under siege and on the verge of bankruptcy.  The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and LA Times are old media institutions struggling to stay financially solvent and culturally pertinent.  Time will tell of their ability to evolve and create a sustainable business model  that will be validated by a market economy.  We have learned that truth, disclosure and transparency are not priceless assets but virtues that must support a sufficient  p/e ratio to to survive in a capitalist economy.

The past few weeks we’ve had a few First Amendment martyrs.  Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams and Keith Olbermann learned that the sword was more powerful then the pen.  The more important lesson that managers could remove them on the whim of executive fiat if they failed to demonstrate restraint of pen and tongue.  In actuality the  removal of these gentlemen from the news desk was more of a business decision then a violation of  their right of Free Speech.

As we enter the second decade of our two wars on terrorism even the embedded journalists rolling through the distressed hamlets of Iraq and Afghanistan are getting a bit war weary.  Like a captive hostage the embeds could not help but to identify with their chauffeurs.  The brave soldiers driving the Humvees’ were always in control of what the embeds saw, was responsible for their safety and quickly became the reporters best friend born of dependency, admiration and the comradeship that develops during war.  Objective reportage was the first causality in this  type of arrangement.

We need to take a cue from Jonathan Edwards.  He is the real shaman of our time.  Blessed with unique skills to help his audience to realize that self affirming connection is only possible by crossing over and taking suggestions from the well placed authorities residing in an unseen mysterious supernatural world.

You Tube Music Video: Tom Waits, Lie to Me

Risk: First Amendment, free speech

November 12, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, banking, branding, business, Clinton, commercial, commodities, culture, democracy, democrats, economics, elections, government, history, investments, marketing, media, news, philosophy, politics, product, regulatory, sustainability, Tea Party, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Regulation and Social Democracy

Last year during the height of the banking crisis I remember Larry Kudlow stating that the US market has a choice. It could pursue the EU model of high regulated markets producing low consistent returns or the American model of less regulation and volatile cycles of high risk and potentially higher returns. If the sole focus of government was the peace of mind and well being of investors Mr. Kudlow’s observation would be valid. Government however must consider a larger community of stakeholders in its scope of concern. Regulatory oversight, the harmony of capital and labor and the incubation of an economic culture that is favorable to and supportive of SMEs are the critical questions confronting all governments particularly those in developed economies.

The EU’s social democratic economic models embody the best and worst aspects of these issues. The social democratic state attempt to combine entrepreneurial impulses of capitalism with the management and administration of social welfare for all its citizens. Democratically “elected administrators” use the apparatus of the state to facilitate and manage the competing interests of capital and labor, free markets and regulation while seeking to balance an entrepreneurship friendly culture with long term sustainability.

Yesterday a toxic tsunami of aluminum sludge coated 16 square miles of pristine Hungarian countryside. It is a telling example of a severe risk event that confronts modern life. A lassiaz-faire approach to the event is not viable and offers no solace to those harmed by this assault. Communities cannot be asked to suffer a market response that promises to correct the problem of the next instance of this event. The construction of better berms and the implementation redundant protection devises to safeguard against this risk for the future is little compensation to those who were killed, injured and lost property or livelihoods as a result of MAL Zrt poor risk management practices.

Better to suffer a regulatory initiative that is based on an understanding of an economic ecosystem as complex and inhabited by competing interests of diverse stakeholders. The ecosystem including the shareholders of MAL Zrt, residents of the surrounding communities, plant workers (also community residents), small businesses (SME) and down stream farmers making a living on arable land and access to clean water all have a stake, albeit competing, in the safe operation of the plant. The possibility that the toxic sludge may find its way into the Danube poses a threat to the water supply of other eastern European nations. This elevates this catastrophic event to other EU jurisdictions. The inter-dependencies and interconnectedness of the pan-regional and larger global economy requires vigorous regulatory safeguards, mitigation initiatives and enforcement response.

The true cost of this event is potentially staggering. It supersedes the narrow interest and economic value of shareholders rights and capital invested in MAL Zrt. Bad economic behavior exemplified by BP’s Horizon Deepwater failure to install redundant protective devises to keep production costs to a minimum, ended up costing BP shareholders and Gulf Coast stakeholders dearly.

State intervention in markets and the reemergence of managed economies is a reality of the global economy. The “managed economy” of the Peoples Republic of China places western style “free market” economies at a disadvantage. The managers of the PRC efficiently deploy and manage capital, effect trade and market protections and scrupulously manage currency valuation. It has created enormous social wealth for China and has contributed to its rapid rise as a preeminent world power. China’s rise requires better coordination of private capital and government to marshal a competitive market response to the challenges posed by managed economies to free and open markets of western democracies. The massive pools of capital deployed by sovereign wealth funds of oil producing regencies and the growing insurgency and power of underground economic activity also pose significant challenges to the viability of unregulated markets.

America’s free market model that eschewed regulation since the 1980’s evolved into a mercantile economy with a weakened economic base. The outsourcing of manufacturing infrastructure loosened free market impulses that left in its place a debtor nation whose warped economy depended on housing/commercial real estate construction (collateral creation/securitization), credit marketing, retailing and a service sector that was designed to support the new economic paradigm. It is a model that has proven itself to be wasteful, costly and unsustainable.

Deregulation has led to the dislocation of the capital markets from the real economy. It has contributed to the massive disparities in social wealth and a crumbling infrastructure. Milton Friedman’s mistaken belief that free market impulses would preserve infrastructure investment has been proven incorrect. Ironically this has added to the government’s burden to provide social assistance to segments of the population disenfranchised from economic participation. Some believe that the basis for the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are economic stimulus programs designed to keep the economy going due to the vacuum created by the loss of manufacturing.

China’s example nor the resurrection of the soviet socialist model is not a desirable alternative for western democratic capitalist societies. Centralized control and state economic planning is rife with inefficiencies. State run economies threatens liberty, stifles innovation and encumbers economic dynamism. The virtues of capitalism (innovation, dynamism, liberty) needs to be encouraged and blended into the new economic reality of a highly dependent and interconnected world that requires cooperation, coexistence, sustainability, fair asset valuation, and the equitable sharing of resource and responsibility. SME’s are at the forefront of innovation, value creation and dynamism and will play a leading role in the creation of new social-political values as sources of sustainable growth and wealth in the emerging economic paradigm.

You Tube Music Video: Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 Orchestra

Risk: regulatory, capitalism, sustainability

October 6, 2010 Posted by | democracy, economics, government, labor, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, risk management, SME | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sum2’s Hamilton Plan Gets Some Scholarly Attention

The following research paper on The Hamilton Plan was written by Deepak Verma, a business student at Baruch College.  To our knowledge it is the first scholarly research that incorporates the Hamilton Plans theme of a focus on SME manufacturing.

ISSUES MANAGEMENT PROJECT
Prof. Michael Kirk Stauffer

DEEPAK VERMA
The Societal and Governmental Environment of Business
Baruch College, the City University of New York
December 16, 2009

Table of Content

Topic Page No
1. Executive Summary 2
2. The Issue: Shrinking Manufacturing Base 3-4
3. The Origin of the Issue and Solution 4-5
4. Small & Medium Enterprises; Catalyst of Sustainable Growth 6
5. Initiative for Development of SMEs 7-8
6. Future of SME and SMEs in USA 9
7. Appendix : References 10

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Living beyond means is not sustainable. One of the primary reasons of prolonged Economic and Credit Crisis in United States is its low manufacturing base and American way of consuming more than what is produced. This research paper will examine issue of shrinking manufacturing base of USA, unfair and unethical business practices adopted by countries such as China to boost export thereby causing trade deficit to USA, reasons for low manufacturing base and role of small and medium enterprise (SME) manufacturers in developing a sustainable manufacturing base of the US economy.

Prior to coming at Baruch College for pursuing MBA in finance and investments, I worked for over 10 years with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), an apex financial institution of India engaged in the development and financing of SMEs and micro financial institutions. Having worked with this financial institution, I realized the importance of SMEs in bringing sustainable economic development and employment creation, particularly in a mixed economy like India.

The paper will discuss on public-private initiative in USA for development of SMEs, their efforts and capital investment for empowerment and financing of SMEs. Various initiatives taken by private and public sector will be analyzed. Efforts have been made to forecast future of SMEs vis a vis manufacturing sector, role of community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and flow of commercial bank credit and private equity investment in SMEs in the United States.

THE ISSUE: SHRINKING MANUFACTURING BASE
Why should shrinking manufacturing base be an issue in a market driven service oriented economy like US? Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated on Feb. 28, 2007, “I would say that our economy needs machines and new factories and new buildings and so forth in order for us to have a strong and growing economy.” Strong Manufacturing base is the only solution to rising trade deficit and industrial job loss. Manufacturing promotes innovation which leads to investments in equipment and people, research and development, improved products and processes and increase in productivity and higher standards of living. Increase in manufacturing leads to increase in demand for raw materials and other commercial services.

United States has transitioned from an agricultural economy to Industrial economy to a service economy. Over a period of this transition US has lost its manufacturing base substantially and has been importing goods from around the world which has resulted into huge trade deficit and industrial job losses. IMF has categorized the US current account deficit as unsustainable. Warren Buffet also once commented “The U.S trade deficit is a bigger threat to the domestic economy than either the federal budget deficit or consumer debt and could lead to political turmoil… Right now, the rest of the world owns $3 trillion more of us than we own of them.”

Since the United States joined the WTO, US trade deficit has risen from $150.6 billion in 1994 to $817.3 billion in 2006. US reliance on imports ranges from electronic items to apparels and other consumables. For example, electronic items sold in United States are developed by companies such as Philips, Toshiba, Sony, Hitachi, Samsung and Sharp. We have lost significant market share in Auto Industry also. Toyota has surpassed General Motors to become leading auto manufacturer in terms of global sales. Ironically, items such as clothing and apparel where USA had its dominance are also being imported from foreign countries. Over 90 percent of clothing and shoes sold in the United States are made in foreign countries. US economy has thrived on consumerism which has led to increase in demand for goods over the years but production of domestically manufactured goods has been declining, thereby giving rise to imports from foreign countries and loss of industrial jobs.

Critics of the argument say it is the increase in production efficiencies, resulted from technological innovation and advancement that has resulted in loss of jobs. Additionally, it is the increase in consumption which is the root cause of import deficit rather than shrinking manufacturing base. Undoubtedly long term data indicates an increase in US manufacturing, but the way we are loosing our manufacturing share from last 2 decades and if we continue shrinking, we will soon have no choice but to consume whatever is dumped in our market and will be on the mercy of foreign imported goods. Increase in manufacturing has not kept pace with global growth in manufacturing in USA. Since 2000 global manufacturing growth has been 47%, whereas USA has recorded a growth rate of only 19%.

ORIGIN OF THE ISSUE & SOLUTION
What is causing shrinking manufacturing base in the United States? Is it purely competitive and cheaper products manufactured in Asia and Europe or some other factors are also responsible? Undoubtedly competitive global business environment has severely affected domestic production in the United States, this crisis in large arises due to unfair and unethical business practices adopted by its trading partners mainly China. Some of those practices are significant government subsidies, currency manipulation, large-scale dumping in the U.S. market, and other market-distorting practices. Additionally, unfavorable govt. policies, tax structure, increase in cost involved in healthcare, litigation, and regulation has significantly affected the bottom line. Increase in cost and strict regulation forced manufacturing units to move their facilities to other countries where companies do not face those kinds of impediments. Companies operating in the U.S. started outsourcing low-value tasks like simple assembly or circuit-board stuffing, but lower cost of outsourcing and shrinking margin lured them to continue outsourcing sophisticated engineering and manufacturing capabilities that are crucial for innovation in a wide range of products. As a result, the U.S. has lost or is in the process of losing the knowledge, skilled people, and supplier infrastructure needed to manufacture many of the cutting-edge products it invented.

Is there any way to bring back our manufacturing base? The view that the U.S. should focus on R&D and services is completely flawed. Manufacturing is part of the innovation process and United States has to expand its manufacturing base to remain a world leader.

Following may be suggested to address the issue:

(1) Increase the tariffs on foreign goods so that they are more expensive than domestic goods.
(2) Demand the same level of quality in all foreign goods as American goods.
(3) Diplomatic measures should be taken to create pressure on foreign countries particularly China to stop manipulating their currencies.

Efforts should be made to open up foreign consumption markets adequately to U.S. producers so as to increase export and minimize trade deficit and should endeavor to combat predatory foreign trade practices aimed at undermining U.S. producers in their home market. Next big step is to promote small and medium enterprises to set-up manufacturing units.

SMALL & MEDIUM ENTERPRISES (SMEs); CATALYST OF SUSTAINABLE GROWTH
The issue of shrinking manufacturing base in the United States has been discussed by economist, policymakers, industrialists, and think tanks since economic integration and various measures to improve domestic manufacturing base have been suggested. But considering our free market dominance no sincere efforts were made to expand manufacturing base. Alarming rise in trade deficit and current economic and credit crisis which resulted in to massive industrial job loss has called for immediate intervention of private-public participation to protect and develop domestic manufacturing base for long term sustainable economic growth of United States. It is this time only that the role of SME manufacturers was felt inevitable to address this alarming issue.

President Obama during an interview said “We’ve got to make sure that we’re cultivating small businesses and entrepreneurs who are going to be driving employment growth,” the President said, “so that 20 years from now we can look back and we can say, ‘This was the pivot point, this is where we started to turn the corner.”

US need to change course at this point of time and need to develop a network of small and medium enterprises focusing on cleaner and green technology. The U.S. can explore strategies used in emerging markets for development of SMEs. According to Hau L. Lee, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, “America needs large industrial zones devoted to specific industries–similar to zones in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and much of China. Such areas offer tax breaks, cheap or free land, workforce training, plenty of water and power, and agencies that serve as one-stop shops for all of the necessary permits and regulatory approvals.” A national level specialized financial institution may be created to provide low cost credit to newly setup SMEs in the manufacturing sector. US strength lies in high end technology, innovation, R&D, robust infrastructure, and know-how.

INITIATIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF SMEs

US govt. runs a number of programs for providing technological know-how, contracting opportunities, counseling and assistance, financing, and R&D facilities to small and medium enterprises. Some of the prominent programs run by US department of commerce are Manufacturing Extension Program, Advanced Technology Program, Technology Transfer, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. State govt. and number of govt. agencies are deployed for implementation of these schemes across the United States. SBA provides technical and financial assistance to SMEs through its partner lending institutions.

On November 17, 2009 The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. launched 10,000 Small Businesses — a $500 million initiative for development of 10,000 small businesses across the United States. The plan envisaged to provide greater access to business education, mentors and networks, and financial capital to small businesses. Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs quoted “Small businesses play a vital role in creating jobs and growth in America’s economy.” Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway also mentioned “Our recovery is dependent on hard working small business owners across America who will create the jobs that America needs. I’m proud to be a part of this innovative program which provides greater access to know-how and capital – two ingredients critical to success.”

Sum2 LLC, a firm which assists SMEs in implementing sound business practices by offering a series of programs and products, announced The Hamilton Plan on Labor Day. The Hamilton Plan is a ten point program to foster the development of manufacturing in the United States by tapping the entrepreneurial energy of small and mid-size enterprises (SME). The Hamilton Plan requires concerted focus of investment capital to fund development and establishment of an SME Development Bank (SDB) which will focus, manage and administer capital formation initiatives to incubate and develop SME manufactures.

I contacted James McCallum, CEO of Sum2llc to discuss the issue of shrinking manufacturing base and how SMEs can help in restoring manufacturing base in the United States. In response to my comment here is what he stated “It is pretty amazing that the United States has not done more to specifically encourage and address the unique needs of this critical economic driver. Many Asian countries are miles ahead of the US in SME banking and capital formation. These banks have extensive portfolios of finance products and technical assistance they provide to SME’s. The reasons that the US lacks focus in this area are many. US commitment to free market forces has badly warped our economic infrastructure. SMEs in the US have primarily relied on community banks for financing. Most of which went for real estate and construction projects. SME manufactures have just about disappeared from the economic landscape of the US. The credit crash and the economic malaise are awakening our understanding of the critical nature of SMEs and our need to manufacture products. Goldman’s 10,000 Businesses Initiative coalesces nicely with the Hamilton Plan we developed in 2008.”

USA MANUFACTURING & SMEs IN YEAR 2030

With the concerted government efforts for promotion and development of SMEs and private sector initiatives such as “10,000 Small Businesses plan” by Goldman, SMEs will be largely benefited having access to innovative financial products and services from a network of financial institutions. Ten point program suggested in Hamilton plan, if implemented, will bring cluster based development of SME manufacturers. Cleaner and green technology will drive long term sustainable growth, increase national income and result in employment creation. Healthy SMEs will be focusing on export of goods thereby reducing the trade deficit and offer a new market for commercial banking sector. High-tech growth oriented SMEs will also have access to private equity investments and will offer a new avenue of diversification to private equity industry.

But the task of SME development is a challenging task and requires strong will on the part of different stakeholders. SMEs are considered to be the riskiest segment of borrowers from a financial institution’s perspective and thus struggle for timely and adequate credit. Access to technical and market information, financial assistance and trained and educated workers is the biggest challenge for SMEs. Future SMEs require sound business practices such as corporate governance, risk management, stakeholder communications and regulatory compliance.

I believe that SMEs are sine qua non for manufacturing sector & I can foresee a bigger space for SMEs in next 20 years from now. I am so intrigued with the idea of SMEs development and their contribution in the economic growth that in the long run I wish to work as a freelancer offering consultancy and advisory services on financial and strategic matters to SMEs. I would work with a network of financial institutions, venture capitalists, engineers, environmentalists, social workers, suppliers, and policy makers so as to offer SMEs a comprehensive set of services.

APPENDIX: REFERENCES

U.S. Needs to Return to Its Manufacturing Base
http://seekingalpha.com/article/119136-u-s-needs-to-return-to-its-manufacturing-base

Securing America’s Future: The Case for a Strong Manufacturing Base, A Study by Joel Popkin and Company, Washington, D.C. June 2003, Prepared for the NAM Council of Manufacturing Associations

http://www.pmihome.org/Popkin_Study_3-03.pdf

President predicts it will take decades to revive declining U.S. manufacturing base?

http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/president-predicts-it-will-take-decades-to-revive-declining-us-manufacturing-base/question-637119/

Manufacturing & Investment Around The World: An International Survey Of Factors Affecting Growth & Performance, ISR Publications, revised 2nd edition, 2002. ISBN 978-0-906321-25-6.

Economy Watch: Economy, Investment & Finance Report

http://www.economywatch.com/world_economy/usa/export-import.html

USA Manufacturing output continues to increase (over the long run), Curious cat, Investing and economics blog

http://investing.curiouscatblog.net/2008/12/02/usa-manufacturing-output-continues-to-increase-over-the-long-term/

Alliance for American Manufacturers http://www.americanmanufacturing.org/issues/manufacturing/the-us-manufacturing-crisis-and-its-disproportionate-effects-on-minorities/

Can the future be built in America? http://proquest.umi.com.remote.baruch.cuny.edu/pqdweb?index=28&did=1860761601&SrchMode=1&sid=2&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1259505905&clientId=8851

TO SAVE AMERICAN MANUFACTURING: USBIC’S PLAN FOR AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL RENEWAL BY Kevin L. Kearns, Alan Tonelson, and William Hawkins

http://americaneconomicalert.org/USBIC_Save_American_Manufacturing_Jobs_Plan.pdf

Goldman Sachs Launches 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative

http://www2.goldmansachs.com/our-firm/press/press-releases/current/10-k-business.html

Goldman Sachs as Social Entrepreneur http://sum2llc.wordpress.com/

Hamilton Plan by Sum2llc http://sum2llc.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/sme-development-bank/

You Tube Video: Isley Brothers, Work to Do

Risk: SME, manufacturing, economic revitalization, social wealth

February 3, 2010 Posted by | business, commerce, economics, Hamilton Plan, manufacturing, recession, SME | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Profit Us Maximus

The deal is closed.  American democracy has been sold. The US Constitution, discovered in a discount bin at a cheap dollar store at the Mall of America will now be fully privatized to serve the greater corporate interests of America.  The deal will enable the global fraternity of capitalists to finally unlock and fully realize the hidden value of an unencumbered American dream.  Profit-Us-Maximus  will replace E Pluribus Unum as the national slogan.  Undoubtedly it will appear on our national currency for the freedom of commercial interests and the uninhibited power of capital has triumphed.  Commercial interests have trumped “we the people”.  American liberty, a political currency once recognized as the worlds leading example of representative democracy has been severely devalued.

The Supreme Courts decision overturning laws that restrict corporate freedom of speech now allows corporations the unrestricted right to financially support candidates for public office.  This paves the way for an installation of  a more corporate friendly oligarchy to rule over the citizens of the worlds first and now defunct representative democracy.  The courts ruling in the Citizens United vs. the US Federal Election Commission overturned existing laws that prohibited corporations from exercising free speech.  The ruling now sanctifies the corporate purchase of air time to fund media campaigns that support or attack candidates running for public office.  The wisdom behind the overturned law was to protect the interests of citizens from a corporations ability to use its considerable capital resources to finance and influence the election of  political candidates favorable to their corporate interests.  That law is yesterdays newspaper.

The decision opens the possibility that the governance of our nation, states and townships will be administered by elected officials financed and paid for by corporate largess proffered with the proviso to do their bidding.  America risks becoming one giant company store.  Once free citizens endowed with the protection and empowerment of a Constitution and a Bill of Rights will become beholden to the whims of corporate paternalism.

If your a shareholder in one of the corporations this is a bullish market event and your equity position has surely appreciated in value.  The special dividend of political power born from purchased access to legislators will accrue favorable returns to investors in The United Corporate States of America.  No longer will senators hail from the great state of Georgia or the Live Free or Die State of New Hampshire.  It’ll be the senator from “Do No Harm” Google or “Have It Your Way” Burger King.

There will be a million unintended consequences resulting from this decision.  How government administers and delivers services and how institutions fulfill their social mission will drastically alter.  Institutions and functions that serve and support education,  military, roads and infrastructure, health care, consumer and  environmental regulations, labor protection laws and provision of social services will be transformed.  The very nature of the liberal nation state will change.

This decision will create conditions for the privatization of governmental assets and institutional service structure  to accelerate at mind numbing speed.  The New Jersey Turnpike can now be sold to a private equity firm from China.  Drilling and the exploitation of resources found on National Parks will proceed without prohibition.  Public schools will be offered on a Dutch Auction hosted on e-bay; attracting the participation of a well capitalized confederation of publicly traded Charter Schools.  The mission to acquire the listless brick and mortar carcass of a once  venerated public school system will commence.  The promise of the systems renewal with the breath  of a new life fired by entrepreneurial zeal and taxpayer support will create a new Dow Jones Index constituent,  Education Inc.   Many functions of government will be downsized and outsourced to sophisticated data processing and business process companies.  Military units will also be privatized, becoming mercenary divisions of corporate security firms.   This will enlarge their market opportunities because they will no longer be beholden to exclusively serving the needs of a single client, the USA.

As Keith Olbermann pointed out in his Special Comment concerning the Supreme Court decision, the parallels with Dred Scott Decision are ironic.  The decision ruled that Dred Scott was not a man, but merely a commodity to create wealth for a person with full rights of citizenship.   Now corporations are blessed with all the rights and privileges of a person and the rising ascendancy of their power will soon supplant the interests of individuals.  In so doing, the Supreme Court has once again proven itself to be an activist  political tool to protect the interests of political and economic elites.

We can at least be thankful that the Supreme Courts decision allows us to dispense with the charade of participatory democracy.  Rampant cynicism about the unfair influence of money on the political process has always been understood as a problem.  This has undermined the people’s trust in the electoral process.  It has  eroded a collective sense of political enfranchisement.  It has contributed to creating a pervading  malaise of ambivalence within the electorate.  The monied interests with fathomless pockets can now come out into the open and make their presence plain for all to see.   It remains to be seen how this will alter the structure of K Street.

A new business model for how money is dispensed to politicians will need to be considered .   Perhaps a new derivative  called  a PIMP, (Politician In My Pocket) should be considered.  A PIMP Exchange could be set up in Washington DC.  This future exchange would surely prosper and would propel Washington DC as the fast rising global financial center on  the come.    PIMP trading would be recognized as a fast growing emerging market.  The trading in PIMPs would attract capital from all over the world and may even rise to supplant the future pits in Chicago as the place “where the world goes to manage risk.”

The PIMP Exchange will add that much needed transparency on how the political influence market is performing and what the going price is to buy and sell politicians.  We should be grateful to the Supreme Court  Decision  that laid the judicial foundation that will finally shine light on this aspect of our political process.  Now that its out in the open its all above board.  No more under the table deals will be necessary.  This ruling and the PIMP Exchange makes it very easy to follow the money.  Perhaps legislation should be considered that require senators and congressmen to wear the corporate logos of their three largest sponsors.  If a corporation wishes to remain anonymous feeling that the  interests of their shareholders are better served they can continue to operate under the radar.  A Generic Omnibus  Politician In My Pocket or a (GO PIMP) will be  designed specifically for this purpose.

The laissez faire approach to freedom of speech unfortunately confers all the power to those with the deepest pockets.  “Politicians will be bought and sold by the gross”, according to Alan Grayson a congressman from Florida.  Mr. Grayson is proposing legislation to protect citizens rights from being trampled by an avalanche of corporate money.  The first amendment guarantees citizens that no one shall abridge or prohibit the free and open expression of ideas.  Unfortunately money speaks the loudest and facilitates access to media channels and distribution. The free and open internet provides an individual little protection.  The tussle in China between Google and the government is an instructive warning of what we can expect to occur as corporate control of the internet grows.  It is an indication of a growing rift born from competitive postures of power capitalist institutions.

Our birthright of liberty was orphaned by a pervading cynicism and the seeming ambivalence of citizens who cared little for the rights democratic republics confer and understood less about the responsibilities required to guard them.  The decision by the Supreme Court is a watershed event.  Our political culture has changed.  The United States model for governance is moving closer to the Chinese model of governance.  The state capitalism of the United States is is a mirror image replication of the Chinese model.  A ruling oligarchy of economic interests acting in concert with its hand picked governmental representatives is common to them both.

Did we awaken this morning to the sober realization that American’s best hope is a trust in a benevolent corporate paternalism?  Can we believe that the rule of unencumbered enlightened capitalists is the way to realize the promises of a post scarce society? Can we still believe in the promise that innovation and social progress  and our democratic impulses will continue to inform America’s historical evolution?  Has America and the rest of the world arrived at a tipping point, a harbinger of a dystopian future where property right trumps human rights and the hard edges of economic deprivation, class marginalization and political disenfranchisement are ills that continue to infect society.  We need a doctor.  We need a strong antibiotic to cure this disease metastasizing in the body politic.

You Tube Music Video: Tennessee Ernie Ford: 16 Tons

January 22, 2010 Posted by | China, Civil Rights, corruption, culture, democracy, economics, elections, environment, Federalism, government, infrastructure, institutional, LGBT, military, politics, private equity, psychology, regulatory, taxation, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Convergence and Innovation Inhibitors: 011110

As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises  only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.

Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.

Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.

With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.

1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an  Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks  a Buddhist Monk stated that  he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”.  Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers.  More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life.  It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers.   We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants.  We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.

2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent  but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and  join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter.  The recent occurrences of  radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia  is tragically ironic.  The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is  a violent rejection of  language convergence of two great faith traditions.  It would seem that unity is a  threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished.  In the secular world government agencies  were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power.  The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships.  Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country.  The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice.  It would  transform our judiciary  into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into  stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges  of our time and a  justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.

3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power.  In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care.  Socialized medicine is bad.  Do you want to turn into France?  Canadian health care is too expensive.  UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand.   These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet  and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.

4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.

5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue.  Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.

6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.

7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a  bifurcated system of citizenship.  It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage.  The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.

Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.

8.  Public Education:  The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world.  Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished.   The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic.  It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.

Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic.  The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support.  It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions  interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning.  Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools.  Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum;  however theology that masquerades  as   science  is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools.    These  trends are pose great challenges to the  public  schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy.  Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.

You Tube Music Video:  Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas

Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance

January 11, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, business, Carter, China, Christianity, culture, democracy, economics, faith, history, institutional, manufacturing, Muslim, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, sustainability, terrorism, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment