McKeever Michael 2001-04-20
I had a strange dream last night - that I was given five minutes to address the FTAA assembly. Of course, one is totally tongue-tied in a dream. So, here's some of what I might say if given the chance:
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the protestors outside this building. I want to try to explain to you what their motivations are, recognizing that their motivations are complex and hard to boil down to a simple thought or two. I recognize that it is hard for you to understand why they are doing what they are doing - in your hearts you know that you are fighting the good fight on their behalf every day. You might say to yourself: 'Why on earth do they make such a fuss when we are only trying to help them?'
First, let me begin by giving you some of my personal background. I know a lot about how you think because I have similar education and experiences to many of you. I have had the responsibility of meeting a payroll or two, small ones, but I know what that means. I worked for McKinsey Consulting and I worked for a Fortune 100 firm as well as being the Director of an MBA program for two years. So, I have some legitimate business experiences.
In trying to boil down the essential points that the demonstrators are concerned about, I think their concerns go to the heart of how you make business decisions. By that I mean that when you make a decision, you are concerned about the bottom line - how will that decision affect profits, ROI and share values. If that decision increases profits, ROI and share prices, then you have done a good job; if it doesn't do that, you will probably be fired. Life is hard in the business world.
But, and here is one of the protestor's points: the costs that you factor into the decisions that you make cover only the costs that you pay out of pocket. For example, you can make a higher profit by shifting manufacturing jobs to China or Indonesia. Wage costs are lower and profits are higher - and you get a bonus in addition to the pleasure of travelling to China and Indonesia. Or, here's another example: you can make a higher profit by shipping hazardous waste to another country instead of treating it safely in the good ol' USA.
There are costs to both those decisions that someone has to pay. "There ain't no free lunch", as someone said a long time ago. Who is going to pay the out of work US factory worker when all he can get is a part time job that pays a third of what he used to make? Who is going to pay the people who live next to the waste dump where you send your waste for the cancer their children develop in ten or twenty years?
The protestors want you to take responsibility for your decisions, not just the bottom line responsibility that you are used to taking, but also the responsibility for the costs that society has to pay on your behalf. Another quote is this:'If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.' Well, if you can't pay for the costs of the decision, don't make it.
I know this sounds hard in an environment where earnings per share have to grow every quarter and shareholders don't give a rosy red rat's ass about anything but their share prices going up.
I also know that you have been conditioned to think that the market will solve any of these problems and that your job is to maximize profits and obey the laws.
I'm here to tell you that it does not work that way. It's not your fault that you believe that fairy tale, but it is time that you recognize the truth about it.
The market does not solve those problems. What good is 20% off on a scooter when your child has cancer? What good are annual earnings per share growth when 30% of the people in some countries will die from AIDS? What good is trade expansion when millions of farmers lose their livelihood from cheaper imports and sell their daughters for food?
Well, I have run over my five minutes, so let me end with this thought:
It's about the future. The protestors want you to take responsibility for the future that you create. If you don't, then they will. You won't like it when they take over. We're all in this together, so let's work together to create a good future"
Feel free to redistribute this in any forum you like, please give credit to the author.
Michael Pierce McKeever, Sr.
Economics Instructor, Vista Community College, Berkeley, CA
URL: www.mkeever.com [Note: no 'c' in mkeever]
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