Wednesday, October 21, 2009
"Chamber of Commerce Announces Free Enterprise Climate Policy" read the headline of the e-mail in my in-box on Monday morning. Intrigued (and, of course, skepticalI'm no fan of the U.S. Chamber and wondered what their angle was), I opened the e-mail and read, with incredulity, a press release that began "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is throwing its weight behind strong climate legislation ..." citing a speech that morning at the National Press Club by the Chamber's president.
Shocked and amused, I immediately forwarded the e-mail to Ronni, Donna and Lacey and recommended it for a story in "JFP Daily" that morning.
After doing so, I decided I needed to see what others were saying about this momentous announcementthis was a remarkable turnabout, even if it struck me as both smart policy and gut-check bravery from the Chamber as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. So, I hit up Google News. Result: "Activist Snares Media with Chamber of Commerce Hoax," Reuters wrote.
It was, in fact, a group called the Yes Men who had written the release I'd received, offering up wishful thinking falsely attributed to a Chamber mouthpiece, such as: "We believe that strong climate legislation is the best way to ensure American innovation, create jobs, and make sure the U.S. and the world are on track to reduce global carbon emissions ..."
You know, I agree with that. I think the president does, too, along with some folks in Congress and a lot of people who areyesin business. But the U.S. Chamber, despite public renunciations by companies such as Apple, PG&E and others, continues to lobby against climate-change legislation, health-care reform and other progressive ideas in the almost exclusive interests of what we used to call "big business"the public corporations that make up the majority of U.S. Chamber membership.
Why? The almighty profit margin.
Notice I didn't say the almighty "buck." Why not? Because I like bucks. They keep my company going, they keep my lights turned on at home and, every so often, they empower me to fire up the pickup and head down to the corner restaurant for a falafel and an ice tea.
In fact, I wouldn't mind a few extra bucks right now.
But when you chase nothing but margin, you're constantly looking for something to cut. Often it's a job you're cutting. Thirty years ago, it would have been unthinkable to let people go in the massive waves that businesses have over the past few years. Ask The Clarion-Ledgerthanks to irresponsible mergers and acquisitions, which have resulting in a sweltering debt load that comes due in the summer of 2010, the mastermind executives at Gannett Corp. have cut at least 10,000 jobs in order to maintain their profit margins.
Sometimes it's a corner you're cutting. Just ask all those people who were making money off mortgage-backed securitiesor the mortgage brokers who were pushing "no-look" loans and variable-rate mortgages on customers. By passing the buck further down the line, tons of people pushed their profit margins quite nicelywithout regard for the costs that would eventually befall the taxpayers, the mortgage holders and the country for their greed.
And the environment? Without a cap-and-trade system or carbon tax, the de facto subsidy for fossil fuels will continue unabated, taking us in exactly the wrong direction on an issue of critical importance. But companies seeking the almighty profit marginand their national lobbying organizationscan't be concerned with the long-term effects of their behavior. They have to maximize shareholder value, and that comes from maximizing profit margins.
Please understand me: I'm not saying profits are bad. Every profit I've tasted has been sweet, and I'd like to taste more of them.
I'm saying that the system is broken, particularly when it comes to publicly traded corporations. I call them "amoral" corporations, because, like un-intelligent single-celled organisms, public corporations make decisions that are exclusively in their best interest, without regard to their environment, communityor nation.
Why? Because that's what the executives at public corporations are rewarded for. Public corporations aren't rewarded for keeping someone in a job, or continuing to manufacture in the United States, or providing top-notch health care or doing things to improve the environment (unless it can be justified as marketing).
Just ask Costco, which Wall Street questions constantly for offering its workers higher salaries and health care than other warehouse stores. Doing the "right thing" is frowned upon.
And that's why I choose to support small businesses and local businesses whenever I can. Local businesses are in the business of making bucks, not just maximizing margins. And those bucks they make recirculate in the community when they're paid to otherscontractors, professionals, service providers, landlords, insurance agents, banks and, yes, advertising outlets. Plus, more of those bucks are available for local charities, schools, churches, and for salaries and bonuses to local employees. You can't outsource a coffee shop or a pub or a stylistand they, by and large, will spend those bucks you pay to them with others in this community.
So this week, in the fall GOOD issue of the Jackson Free Press, I encourage you to look at the different arguments for spending your money with locally owned retailers and restaurants this week, this weekend and this holiday season. The more dollars spent in local businesses, the better our roads and services and bike trails and green spaces will be. After all, it's wealthy communities that have nice amenities, and we're never going to make Jackson any wealthier if all our dollars are spent at Kroger and Walmart.
Make the effort, because in some ways, we're all shareholders in this community, and investing our dollars in local businesses is the best way to return value to ourselves. Let's keep those bucks here in town.