William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck, both Brookings scholars and veterans of the (Bill) Clinton administration, have an intriguing critique of American capitalism in the fall edition of Democracy. Their accusation is short-termism—a fixation on near-term results at the expense of the future. Their argument, furthermore, is refreshingly practical. It puts the blame squarely on laws, regulations, and other institutional factors that have, together, cut private sector investment in productivity while boosting CEO pay astronomically and inciting corporate financial manipulations such as stock buybacks. (In 1981, S&P 500 companies spent 2 percent of their income buying their own stock back from investors and thereby boosting its value. Since 2004, the same companies have spent almost half their income buying their own stock.)
Galston and Kamarck have specific regulatory prescriptions, many of them to do with the tax code and securities rules, but the most interesting passages of the article concern the shortcomings of public companies (i.e., companies with stock traded on public exchanges). “Summed across full business cycles, family-owned firms outperformed [public companies] in every country studied. Among the reasons: Family firms emphasized organic growth rather than flashy acquisitions, they are better at retaining talented workers, and—surprisingly—they are more successful at generating overseas sales…. ‘Executives of family businesses often invest with a 10- or 20-year horizon.’”
Family-owned businesses are no sideshow in global capitalism: “One-third of US businesses with revenues of $1 billion or more are family-owned.” Galston and Kamarck conclude: “our economy would work better if public corporations behaved more like private firms—if they made long-term investments, retained their workers, grew organically, and offered reasonable but not excessive compensation to their top managers, based on long-term performance rather than quarterly earnings. To make this happen, we must restructure the incentives that shape the decisions of CEOs and boards of directors.”
Compare the treatment of Carrie and Mary Dann, two elderly Shoshone women who defied federal seizure of their lands, to the current treatment of armed militiamen who have taken over federal properties in Oregon. (Oxfam made a short documentary about the sisters’ story, which can be viewed at the end of this article.) Then I’d suggest reading this very thoughtful opinion piece about what can be learned from our jokes about the Oregon terrorist group, who were quickly dubbed “VanillaISIS.”
I haven’t seen an actual Broadway show in years, but I’m totally sold on Hamilton. It’s a musical portrayal of founding father, Alexander Hamilton, surely one of the most fascinating characters in early American history. The twist is that it’s set to hip-hop, and nearly every major character is played by a person of color, including Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Hamilton’s killer, Aaron Burr. It’s getting rave reviews.
Former Seattle Mariner Ken Griffey, Jr., made baseball’s Hall of Fame this week. He was responsible for some magical summer nights in the Northwest, so here’s to remembering how great he was in his prime.
One hundred and sixty four people in West Seattle and South Park regret wasting their first-ever chance to vote in Seattle’s new district city council election system by writing in someone other than the two very qualified candidates who were running for that seat. In the end, the race was separated by just 39 votes, so those 164 could have really made a difference.
But the situation is even more disappointing than that. The hand recount found 2,722 “Undervotes,” about 10 percent of the total, cases where the ballot bubble was left blank.
Moreover, of those registered, only 45 percent voted. In addition, not all those eligible even bother to register. Across the state of Washington, of those eligible to vote, only 28 percent voted in 2015.
Grist has an interesting take on Star Wars, the environment, feminism, and whether the universe is unfolding as it should, as Mr. Spock once said. The article contains minor spoilers, but folks have told me that the images come from trailers or previous movies in the franchise.
I’m not sure quite how I feel about making light of the most serious issues of our day (I’m glad Tarika shared an article about the risks of such humor), but when I’m laughing out loud I do tend to feel much better about humanity, at least momentarily. So, to share that fleeting feeling, I give you:
- Andy Borowitz: Obama Continues to Stubbornly Link Gun Violence with Guns. The fake quotes here are brilliant.
- Slate’s Joshua Keating poking fun at the media (more than the self-styled militia) by writing about the “Oregon Siege” as if it were happening in another country. It’s the latest in a series in which he “reports” US news stories using the tropes and tone normally reserved for events unfolding in foreign lands.
Grist, meanwhile, offered really good context on ranching and public lands.
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Finally, five facts to know about the giant methane disaster in California from Scientific American.
An interesting take on the fissures within the Republican Party: the donors are the economic elite, while many voters are economically insecure. The elite want tax cuts, cuts to Medicare, more free trade, but they are open to immigration reform; many rank-and-file Republicans want to keep their Medicare and Social Security, want more jobs and better wages, want to kick out the immigrants who are taking their jobs but are open to increasing taxes on the rich. If we had more than two parties, we might have many takers from the left and the right on a Middle Class Party, dedicated to economic security (jobs, wages, benefits, insurance) for middle-class citizens.
The proliferation of books with “happiness” in the title suggests that Americans really, really, really ant to be happy. But maybe that is not a good goal, for individuals or for society. It turns out “the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior.” Uh-oh. Also with animal behavior: food and comfort are pretty important to your cat or dog. What makes us human is not the pursuit of happiness; it is the pursuit of meaning, the drive to contribute to something larger than the self. Here’s hoping 2016 marks the start of the proliferation of self-help books about finding meaning.
Some people in Sweden have a six-hour workday! Work 8:30 to 11:30, take a one-hour lunch break, work until 3:30, then go home, take a hike, spend time with your kids! Compare to the United States, where school ends at 3:00, and the workday for many moms and dads ends at 6:00.