Stuff Ballard Wrote

Category: Business (Page 1 of 2)

Public-private: who shuld be who

Daily Planet, 3/2016

My son, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, is working part-time reviewing classified documents to see if they should stay classified.

Last month he wrote an email that said, in part:

“One thing that comes through really clearly, no matter what I’m reading, is how many really smart people are working really hard and, for the most part, trying to do the right thing. When something other than trying to do the right thing pops up, it seems really discordant, selfish, short-sighted, or some combination.”

He’s writing about the people George Wallace called “pointy-headed bureaucrats who can’t park a bicycle straight.”

He’s writing about the people Ross Perot said he’d “throw their briefcases in the Potomac River” when he got to be president,

An old (far-right) friend of mine once wrote: ”[Liberals] believe that government workers – who have total security and little or no incentive to produce – can do things as well as those in private industry, where the workers are relatively insecure and have a great deal of incentive to produce.”

I understand George Wallace. The federal government shoved him out of the schoolhouse door.

I understand Ross Perot. He’s one of our greatest living egomaniacs.

I understand my friend. He built a successful business and drives new Mercedeses, so, to him, “the individual” shouldn’t be bothered by annoying little government people.

What I DON’T understand are the many millions of ordinary working people who believe that the government is “taking over our lives.”

The government isn’t taking over our lives.   The government is GIVING us better lives. Those pointy-headed bureaucrats watch that our workplace is safe, that our air travel is safe, that our water and air are clean.  And what’s more, they CARE. It matters to them that they’re successful.

In the Republican nominating show that’s going on now, they outdo each other to promise shrunken government.  “Government-run healthcare” is a four-letter cuss word.

They’re saying that insurance company managers, who meet behind closed doors to figure out how to make the most profit from the healthcare system, will do a better job at delivering healthcare services to us than government people – whose main concern is that we get the services we need.

In fact, it’s the other way around. People with motivation for profit are far less likely to deliver the best healthcare product for the people’s needs. Business has a built-in cynicism that’s fine when supermarkets are competing with each other. Private enterprise does a great job at inventing things and advertises things and puts their advertised things out there for sale.

But anything that has to do with the public good is best done by government. I don’t want a profit motivation in the CDC, the EPA, the FDA, the FAA, the SEC, the FDIC and OSHA.

I don’t want profit motivation in our public schools, like our Republicans in Raleigh are taking us to. Or privatized Social Security, like George W. tried to take us to.

An article in Harvard Business Review discussed specifically whether privatization serves the public good. It made this observation:

“Privatization will be effective only if private managers have incentives to act in the public interest….Profits and the public interest overlap best when the privatized service or asset is in a competitive market. It takes competition from other companies to discipline managerial behavior.”

Two distinct worlds with two distinct motivations – the world of profit and the world of service. Both recruit and develop smart and dedicated people. One is dedicated to maximizing profit for ownership. The other is dedicated to maximizing people’s lives.

We should never confuse who should be doing what.

Naming cars

Citizen-Times, 12/2004

[Long since retired but still with opinions]

I name things for a living. Over 22 years, my colleagues and I have named hundreds of products and companies – from NationsBank to a paint color for an airline.

So I like to think I know a winning name when I see one. And losers, too.  I watch commercials, sometimes nodding with admiration, sometimes muttering, “How much did they pay for that dog?”

In the late 1980s and interviewer asked me to rate the names given to four new entry-level luxury cars – Acura (from Honda), Infiniti (from Nissan), Lexus (from Toyota) and sterling (from Britain’s Rover, which was a repackaged Acura).   I rated them, in order, Lexus (easy to pronounce and the middle X says “sex”), Acura (if they spend the money to teach us how to pronounce it, which they did), Infiniti (too many syllables) and, finally, Sterling.  This last one had nothing to recommend it.  Focus groups predictably said it was the most British.

So you see, I[m pretty good at predicting success,. Which brings me to Chevrolet’s new Cobalt, the new replacement for Cavalier.

I understand why they’re changing the name. General Motors can’t upgrade the Cavalier and set the price they want for it.  To do that they need to introduce an entirely new car.

But why Cobalt?  It violates almost every rule of good naming.  OK, it’s easy to pronounce.  But all words out of the dictionary come with baggage, and cobalt’s baggage is heavy.  The Cobalt Bomb, developed in the ‘50s, was never tested because it’s incredibly “dirty,” some say even capable of ending life on earth.

Like Sterling, there are hundreds of products named Cobalt – including an upscale boat and a car audio system.

My thumb was about to turn downward when a little light went on somewhere deep back there. I remembered a condominium developer who hired my partner in New York to evaluate names he was considering for new properties – Ice, —, Blue —  These are names designed to appeal to young, affluent buyers.  So is Cobalt.

I still don’t like it. , but oh my, am I not their target customer!

Why NC workers are anti-union

Daily Planet, 11/2015

If anybody – anybody in the whole world – should be fanatic supporters of labor unions, it’s the working people of North Carolina.

In this space recently, we quoted what Forbes Magazine had to say about North Carolina as a good place to do business:

“North Carolina has the smallest union workforce in the U.S. in terms of percent of total employment. The resulting benefit [to business] is labor costs that are 16% below the national average—third lowest in the country.”

I sit here pounding my hand to my head.   Arrgh! Sixteen percent below the national average!

And my fellow North Carolinians don’t seem to want to change things.

I say this because studies have shown that large majorities of North Carolina workers do not support the one factor that have the best chance of increasing their incomes: labor unions.

An Elon University Poll in 2009 asked North Carolina residents whether they tend to sympathize with unions or companies in labor disputes, and 47% said companies, versus 26% for unions.

North Carolina is a “right to work” (RTW) state and has been since the 1940s. In fact, the entire South is RTW. A map of RTW states looks like a map of the old Confederacy (plus some farm states and three of the states Republicans took over in 2010).

And as an Economic Policy Institute study reported:   “It is not surprising that research shows that both union and nonunion workers in RTW states have lower wages and fewer benefits, on average, than comparable workers in other states.”

On one level, I find it really hard to understand this anti-union attitude. If unionization will help somebody’s income, why be hostile?

But on another level, I do understand. There are reasons. Some say it goes back to the disastrous Textile Workers Strike of 1934, when a premature strike failed in three weeks and thousands were blacklisted.

It may be true that the bitter taste of that defeat has been passed down through generations. But I see two other factors as more likely.

One comes out of studies that show a strong correlation between job satisfaction and anti-union feelings. In other words, if a worker is happy on his job, he is unlikely to vote for unionization – and a whopping percentage of workers have high job satisfaction.

All of us would rate contentment as a positive trait in people. But when people can’t make ends meet, some taking second jobs, it’s time to be dissatisfied. Satisfied workers MAY NOT KNOW that people in other parts of the country are being paid considerably more than they are. This is not greed. Being paid a proper wage is a person’s right.

Another likely factor I see comes out of conversations I’ve had with conservative Republicans. These people were vocal against unions. But they hold these opinions, it seemed to me, because anti-unionism is part of the conservative, Republican package. They seemed to take the Party line without much thought.

When Republicans took control of Congress in 1947, they filed 250 bills to curb union power, the most important being the Taft-Hartley Act, which established RTW. And we saw our own Republicans in Raleigh taking actions against labor as soon as they took power in 2011.

Why are Republicans against unions? Two words: business lobbies. Business supports Republicans, and business doesn’t like unions.

So North Carolina workers are paid less than they should be paid. Unions would help. But most workers don’t want to join unions. Employers win by default.

Laws need to be changed, yes, but more important, minds need to be changed. Almost all workers can organize right now.

I’m solidly behind North Carolina working people.   I just wish North Carolina working people were solidly behind North Carolina working people.



“Good for business”?

Daily Planet, 9/2015

When Volvo chose South Carolina as the site for its first U.S. assembly plant, I wondered why. I knew Governor McCrory wanted that plant for North Carolina more than he wanted a smarter lawyer.

So I put my research hat on, and there it was, at WTOC (Savannah) online:

“According to Volvo, they chose Berkeley County which is right outside of Charleston because of their access to ports, they have a well trained labor force, and have experience in the high tech manufacturing sector.”

Ow, ow, ow. That “well-trained workforce” really hurt.

Ports, OK. Charleston is way bigger than Wilmington, and they have experienced in handling BMWs.

But South Carolina praised for a well-trained workforce? Everybody knows it’s NORTH Carolina with the world-class schools, community colleges and universities.  Or they used to.

Our Republican governor and General Assembly bore us by beating the “business-friendly” bongo every time they cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations and cut regulations – and lay off another few thousand teacher assistants. It’s almost a religion with them. Companies are led around by their bottom lines and nothing else.

They’re wrong.

Several business media outlets publish rankings of states on their being a good place to do business. One is Forbes Magazine.

Let’s look at two states that Forbes lists in their Top Ten: North Carolina and Minnesota.

Minnesota’s blurb in Forbes says, in part:

“Minnesota cracks the top 10 for a second straight year based on a strong current economic climate and quality of life….Minnesota has the fourth highest percentage of adults with a high school degree at 92.4%. With its good schools, low poverty rate and healthy populous, the state ranks second overall on Forbes’ quality of life measurements.”

North Carolina’s reads, in part, like this:

“North Carolina has the smallest union workforce in the U.S. in terms of percent of total employment. The resulting benefit is labor costs that are 16% below the national average—third lowest in the country. North Carolina has ranked in the top five overall for 9 straight years.”

When they say, “labor costs that are 16% below the national average,” what exactly are they saying? Right: North Carolinians work cheap.

On the one hand, you have a state rated high for its well-educated population and quality of life. On the other hand, you have a state rated high because its people are poorly paid.

And by the way, Minnesota is rated #1 on CNBC’s list of best states to do business. (North Carolina is ranked #5.) CNBC notes: “To some degree, Minnesota benefits from a trend….Rather than just seeking the lowest taxes or the highest incentives, companies are increasingly chasing the largest supply of skilled, qualified workers.”

“Quality of life” sounds sort of squishy – something I’ll know when I feel it. But Forbes and CNBC put business meaning to it.

The Forbest quality of life index looks at the index of schools, health, crime, cost of living and poverty rate. Minnesota is specifically praised for funding highways.

I can’t help but look at Minnesota’s pluses and then look at the accomplishments of our Republican General Assembly in North Carolina. Schools?   They cut, cut, cut. Health? They refused the freeby Medicaid expansion. North Carolina is rated #31 on Forbes quality of life index – just ahead of Texas, for heaven’s sake.

So we have two competing strategies for attracting companies: education and quality of life versus low pay for workers and low taxes for corporations.

There’s another side to this coin: the people of North Carolina. We are the collateral damage of our General Assembly’s policy of school cuts, environment cuts and corporate tax cuts (mine went up).

North Carolina’s slide from greatness continues.


I’m for labor!

Citizen-Times, 9/2013

Labor Day, 1934: 20,000 textile workers parade in the streets of Gastonia, NC, celebrating the beginning of a new era.

History sees it as the beginning of the end for good wages and benefits in NC.

The year before Gastonia, Franklin Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act had become law, guaranteeing collective bargaining rights for unions and permitting the regulation of working standards, including a 40-hour work week.

Textile workers saw FDR and the NIRA as liberation from bondage. But mill owners responded by demanding the same production in 40 hours that workers had done in 50 or 60 hours.

In mere months, textile workers organized across the South against mill owners. A strike was imminent that Labor Day in Gastonia. One witness called it the “closest thing this country has had to a revolution.” That September, 170,000 textile workers across the South stayed off the job, 65,000 in N.C. The textile industry was shut down.

The strike lasted three weeks. The workers had no leverage and insufficient resources.   The national union gave little support.   N.C.’s governor mustered the National Guard to protect mills. FDR’s representatives said the workers grievances “merited study” and urged workers to go back to work. But thousands lost their jobs and were blacklisted. It was a bitter defeat.

Textile workers were so traumatized by the experience that no union has ever been successful in organizing textile workers in NC.   Some say the 1934 strike caused negative attitudes that many North Carolinians still have toward labor unions today.

Indeed, an Elon Poll in 2009 asked respondents whether they tend to favor unions or business in labor disputes, and 47% said business, versus 26% for unions.

These are outrageous numbers. It seems eerily like the traumatic bonding of the Stockholm Syndrome. If I’m a working person and I’m not management, I’m labor. I should be part of Organized Labor, not Organized Rich Guys (ORGs) – employers who pinch their benefit pennies and squeeze workers for more production.

I personally believe in the intent of FDR’s National Industrial Recovery Act – that business and labor work profitably together, with government help, neither seeking excessive gain.

But that ain’t what’s happening. Instead, we see fierce anti-union activity from business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and we see the ORGs funding, and then controlling, GOP office-holders. We see Republicans trying to bust unions everywhere they gain power: Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan – and NC, where our General Assembly wants a constitutional amendment making “right to work” permanent.

If working people’s attitudes don’t change, then I can just say, “Good luck, guys. For your sakes, I hope Democrats win elections.”

I’m for NC’s working people. I just wish NC working people were.

Business controls

Citizen-Times, 6/2013

For people trying to understand why Republicans are doing what they’re doing in Raleigh, it all starts in the 19th century.

Professional baseball was a thoroughly American game at its beginning in the 1870s. Players jumped year by year to whatever team would pay them the most. Classic free-market capitalism. But teams were owned by rich businessmen, and these men wanted baseball to be like their businesses: they wanted full control. In 1889 team owners met secretly and agreed that while players only got annual seven-month contracts, players were bound to their teams for life.   When a players’ union formed, the owners broke it. (Google “brotherhood war baseball”)

The key word here is “control.” Business owners are sometimes called “job creators,” but once they’ve created the jobs, then they become Creators and want full control over their creations.

Two years after baseball’s Brotherhood War, Andrew Carnegie’s CEO brought in hundreds of heavily-armed thugs to break a strike at his Homestead steel mill. They failed, but the subsequent lockout succeeded. Pennsylvania’s governor only cared about Carnegie’s property, so he sent in the state militia to reopen the mill.

Government support for companies in labor disputes was the norm until Franklin Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Act of 1935. In the 1934 Horse Creek Valley textile strike, for example, the governor of South Carolina sent in the National Guard with machine guns on the side of mill owners.

So we come to what Raleigh Republicans are doing.   Broadly speaking, they’re taking N.C. back to a time before Franklin Roosevelt. The GOP has never accepted FDR’s “socialism” as legitimate, from Social Security to union rights to minimum wage. They want to bring back a time when businesses had full control and governments backed them solidly.

In 2011-12, led by our own Ralph Hise, they moved against public school teacher organizations with Senate Bill 727. Then in January this year, the newly elected state House of Representatives passed in first reading House Bill 6 ─ a constitutional amendment that restricts worker organizations forever. If passed, it will be on the 2014 ballot.

Not only is our state government siding with business against workers, like the old days; they’re actively crippling worker organizations. Gov. McCrory’s inner circle includes the owner of a large retail chain that gives employees low wages, uncertain hours and no benefits.

Carnegie was enlightened at first. His workers actually considered themselves co-owners of the mill. This, I believe, is what capitalism would be like in the Kingdom of God ─ business and labor working profitably together, neither seeking excessive gain. But Carnegie demanded more hours for less pay, and the workers felt betrayed.   Carnegie won ─ but then business will always win without government support.


I was a ghost

Daily Planet, 5/2013

I used to be a ghost. I was invisible, but you could see my handiwork. I watched and listened as others spoke my ideas, smiling when my words were quoted in the press.

That’s right: I was a ghost writer.   My name never appeared on books, magazine articles, thank-you notes, boardroom resolutions, resumes, movie treatments, business proposals, poems, speeches, letters and, once, an article for a scholarly journal.

I thought of those days during the disastrous speeches by Romney and Ryan at the Republican National Convention. And I did some smiling last month when I visited old friends in a Chicago suburb. You see, I wrote a series of love letters in college that helped their romance along. Neither of us mentioned the letters. I guessed he never told her.

Ghosting might be the second-oldest profession.   Alexander Hamilton wrote George Washington’s Farewell Address. Franklin Roosevelt spoke the words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but it was Louis Howe who coined them. Most of John Kennedy’s memorable lines were written by Ted Sorenson.   Gerald Ford brought in comedy writer Robert Orben to lighten up his verbiage.

An interesting ghostwriting moment came when President George W. Bush was selling the Iraq War. He assigned the job of “messaging” the war to speechwriter David Frum.   Sorenson did say, “The man who controls the pen has a great deal of influence over what ultimately becomes presidential policy.” Frum’s assignment went beyond influence.

Most of the time I was only asked to take the client’s ideas and craft them into flowing rhetoric. The meat and potatoes were cooked; I provided the gravy. But not always. Sometimes I even had to do the shopping.

The chairman of a large bank once asked me to write a speech for him. His instructions, more or less, were: “Here’s the subject they want me to talk about. Make me look good.” And I did.

Well, a few months later, my office phone rang.   “Mr. Ballard,” a familiar voice said, “we have a problem. The press is asking for our corporate policy on a certain subject, and we don’t have one.   Didn’t you write a speech for the chairman a while back on that subject?” I said I did. Did I have a copy? I did.   A messenger would be right over, she said. I protested that I had written it without input from the chairman.

“Did he give the speech?”


“The messenger will be there in 15 minutes.”

One speech for that chairman I regret. I wrote the speech he gave to bank officers about competition among Texas banks for loans. The speech told the officers to get busy selling loans. Not long after, Texas banks collapsed from bad loans.

Looking back, I feel sorry for my clients ─ that they had to hire me. The very process of writing is, after all, the process of thinking. When we write, we’re constantly seeking ideas, sifting and winnowing, accepting and rejecting, developing and discarding. We follow lines of logic and discover new questions.   We’re sometimes forced to change our minds. We challenge a simplistic idea, and it crumbles. We research. We interview. But we try to go beyond our sources to new conclusions.

True, we elect and hire people for their ability to make good decisions, not their ability to talk about them. But it’s a shame that intellectual rigor is regarded as a luxury. I’m happy that President Obama is a writer as well as a leader.



Risk-takers rewarded first?

Citizen-Times, 2/2013

The black cat (Honky was her name) lay sprawled in the midday shade. Overhead a blue jay (name unknown) hopped along a limb, eying cracker fragments scattered by chance around Honky’s head. Suddenly the bird swooped and returned to the limb with a cracker. Honky heard his flutter and raised her head. The bird dived again. The cat lunged and missed.

I wondered: Why did the bird do that? The woods nearby were alive with luscious bugs. Why those particular crackers? Could the answer be risk? Did pounding heart and sweating talon turn crackers into cake?

Some people are like that blue jay. For them, risk is what makes life life. They free-fall from airplanes. They scale glaciers. And for this column, they quit their jobs and risk everything in a business venture.   These are the people conservatives praise grandly. I’ve heard “risk” actually used when they describe the ideal hierarchy of rewards:   “Risk-takers should be taken care of first.”

Several of my clients were risk-taking entrepreneurs, and I observed several characteristics they shared in common. Without exception, successful or unsuccessful, they were self-confident.   They believed that when victory was in the balance, they themselves could tip the scales.

They exploited opportunity.   They looked for a niche, a need, a space to occupy, and they moved into it.

Most of them thrived on challenge.   They stretched themselves to the limit and then set new limits.

The risk-taking entrepreneur, by definition, operates in a realm of things unproven ─ and not everybody wants to live in that realm.   This second group spends their lives managing what they have: the job, the house, the family, maybe investments. That’s their realm.

A friend once said to me, “I work for Pat, and I’ve made him rich. We’ve developed a sort of division of labor. He takes the risks, and I sleep nights.”

What strikes you about these two groups: the risk-taker and the non-risk-taker? Right.   Almost everybody falls in the second group. The whopping majority of people manage what they have. They can’t put it at risk. Even if they have the idea and the inclination to risk, they don’t have the know-how or the resources. (Actually, many “entrepreneurs” have support systems that minimize their risk ─ family and ethnic group.)

All this leads me to vehemently disagree that a small minority (business-owners) should be “taken care of first.” But that’s Republican doctrine. Our Republican General Assembly, on the first day of business, proposed three anti-worker constitutional amendments. The less power workers have, you see, the less business has to pay them.

Workers are the backbone of our society. We should give them, at least, equal consideration.


Envying the rich?

Citizen-Times, 4/2012

Back in January, Mitt Romney was asked on the Today Show if he stands by his previous statement, that anyone questioning inequality in America and misconduct on Wall Street is envious of the rich. He repeated that if they do that, “it’s about envy.” He later said that discussions about inequality in our society are “very envy-oriented.”

Well, Mitt, I believe that inequality is destructive to our society. And I don’t have an envious bone in my body. I have a great wife, great dog, great little house, great little car, great kids, great grandchildren. (no, that should be “wonderful” grandchildren).   I’m a contented man. Oh, I might have a reaction to somebody’s 1955 Thunderbird convertible, but it’s more “How cool” than “I wish I had it.”

When I was in business, I spent time with some of these people I’m supposed to envy, mostly CEOs of client companies. And I can only think of a couple that I’d want to spend an evening with. While they were looking down on me, I was sizing them up as people. Once I was in the room with two CEOs during a break and heard them one-upping each other on Gulfstream jets. I left the room before I puked. I had a few tell me with a chuckle about illegal or unethical tricks they’d pulled, like I was the family dog who wouldn’t understand. An exception certainly was the time I traveled with Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus). A total delight.

Let me define the people I’m talking about.   These aren’t your penny-ante millionaires. They aren’t professionals. Many rich lawyers have happily crossed my path, and there are a few medical doctors I’d like to know better. (Doctors’ arrogance is usually professional, I’ve found, not personal.) The people I’m talking about are the super-rich.   We’ve had a glimpse into their world through Romney and his five houses and his wife’s two Cadillacs. In dramas like PBS’ Downton Abbey, I think most Americans never quite understand the class structure─particularly how the underclasses know and keep their place. I’d have made a terrible peasant.

The super-rich belong to another time, like when John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, and James Mellon paid someone else to go fight the Civil War in their places. Mellon’s father wrote to him that “a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of lives less valuable.”

The super-rich are the French nobility in 11th century England. We’re the Anglo-Saxon serfs. Serfs back then used the English word “pig”; the nobility used “pork” from French.   That is, one class raised the animal; the other class ate the meat. We don’t figure in their world, even if their activities impact us vitally.

If they would stay on their estates and yachts, none of us would have a quarrel with them. Do you Jay Gatsby thing, dude. But they don’t. They intrude. As you read this, they’re buying the 2012 election. In Wisconsin, only 7 percent of Governor Scott Walker’s funding in his recall battle comes from Wisconsin. Most of the rest comes from billionaires in Texas and New York. As our May 8 primary approaches, you’ll see TV ads from “Restore Our Future”─ads that de-restore Rick Santorum─and you’ll wonder, Who is Restore Our Future? Search “restore our future contributors” on Google and find out. Look down the 10 pages at how much these donors gave and what companies they represent, and ask yourself, “Hmmm, what might these people expect in return from President Romney?” And in the fall, when you see “American Crossroads” on an ad, remember that 98 percent of Crossroads contributors are billionaires.   (President Obama has a super-PAC, but it’s piddling compared to these super-funds.)

Let’s put things in perspective and look closely at one of these super-rich.  Robert Rowling, owner of the Omni hotel chain, is worth $4.7 billion. He gave $2.5 million to American Crossroads in 2010.   That’s five-one-hundreths of one percent of his net worth. Now let’s suppose that you, the reader, have a stash worth $100,000. A contribution you’d make that would be comparable to Rowling’s would be…fifty bucks. Contributing a few mil doesn’t make a blip on his bank statement─but it can sway an election.   That’s what’s going on. They give what is to them chump change in order to make it easier for them to make more after the election.

Who do these people think they are─giving millions to political candidates who will favor them with low tax rates, trying to buy elections so they can play their high-finance games without interference from us Anglo-Saxons serfs (that is, government regulation)? Who do they think they are─taking all they can for themselves without regard to how their risk-taking impacts us all, even pushing an ideological agenda against assistance to the poor? Who do they think they are? Well, they think they’re the nobility, the masters of our future.   And they could just be right.

No, Mr. Romney, I don’t envy these people. They make me angry. And I’m going to do my best this year to see they don’t succeed.   This Angle-Saxon swings a mean vote, and it will be against you and the birds that flock with you.

Apple & China 2

Citizen-Times, 4/2012

Steve Jobs has been called the business genius of our time. Indiana governor Mitch Daniels praised him grandly in the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union message. Then, right as Daniels spoke, Pow! the New York Times did a two-part analysis of Apple’s manufacturing practices and then Wham! the FBI file on Jobs was released.

The first Times article startles us with the numbers: Apple employs 43,000 in the U.S. while contractors who actually produce Apple products in other countries employ 700,000. Apple makes hundreds of dollars on each phone, $400,000 in profit overall for every employee. Manufacturing in America would add $65 to the cost of each phone….Hold it! Hold it! All that profit and they go to China for 65 bucks? But ah, it’s more than money. The Times summarizes Apple’s overall attitude this way: “Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have outpaced their American counterparts.” In short, Steve Jobs didn’t believe in America.

Then the F.B.I. file. Typical of several interviewees was one who described Jobs to the F.B.I. as “a deceptive person—someone who was not totally forthcoming and honest and as having a tendency to distort reality in order to achieve his goals.”

Many who read that will say, “OK, those traits make him a good businessman, don’t they?” Do they? Capitalism is our system. It works. But today’s capitalism is mindless. The brilliant people who run corporations, the very people who can revitalize American industry, drone on like robots: “I must maximize profit. I must seek every advantage over my competitors.”

People are always screaming about how we need better politicians. I do. But more than politicians, we need better capitalists. We need capitalists who ponder their role in the great drama of humanity. We need thoughtful, courageous capitalists who can make the “triple bottom line”–profit, people, planet—a reality.

Until then, I want people in Washington and Raleigh who understand the”people” part. . I’m terrified to think of a President Romney. Warren Riley, in his terrific column in this space last month, warned us about corporate motivations in this era of super-PACs. He says, “As maligned as it is, good regulation has saved us from the corporate pillaging that has ravaged some Third World countries.” Exactly.

How ironic that scrutiny is now being given to the labor and environmental policies of Apple’s contractors in China. As a result, says the Wall Street Journal, “Your iPhone is going to cost more in the near future.” Oh, the tangled web of outsourcing.


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