The Guillotines Are Closer!

I have to admit, I am fascinated with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. His latest action to free members of a punk rock band with a provocative name and a former Oligarch is classic. He is thumbing his nose at the world, especially the other world leaders who he sees as weak, and doing things his way.

Putin in a show of power warned Russian tycoons in 2000 that their wealth would be safe if they did not meddle in politics. One of those oligarchs did not listen and proceeded to support civic organizations opposed to Putin. Mr. Khodorkovsky, the oligarch, told Putin in 2003 that if “the goal was to drive him from the country or to put me in jail, they’d better put me in jail.” His boldness was admirable, but a few days later he was in jail. He spent ten years in jail, and is now, as of yesterday, out of the country. The oligarch who thought he was powerful found out who really had the power in Russia.

What Putin did is nothing new. The tension between those who have power and those who the power is applied too is as old as the history of mankind. Power brokers collect power, over use the power, and then the people rise up and remove the person in power. Eventually the new person in power becomes like the old leader, and on and on it goes.

Peggy Noonan this morning, in her wonderfully articulate op ed, made several poignant statements. The title of the WSJ opinion editorial is “The Most Memorable Words of 2013.”  She then provided some of her own opinions about some of the more interesting faux pas made over the last year. “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.” We’ve all seen this one discussed ad nauseam. There are other variations of this like keeping one’s doctor that she found appealing. On the more positive side, Delta airlines said that even though cell phone use is now allowed on airplanes during a flight, it won’t allow customers to use their phones any time during the flight. I think that is fantastic. I do not want to sit on a four-hour flight listening to the person next to me discussing their sex life with their significant other.

But the best comment made in 2013, according to Noonan (and I agree with her) is one that maybe none of us heard prior to this moment. A billionaire in New York made this comment. “I hate it when the market goes up. Every time I hear the stock market went up I know the guillotines are coming closer.” That comment is almost on the same level as Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake.”

The billionaire who made this comment is a self-made man, and has a lot of money in the market. According to Noonan, he is “a thinker on politics.” He is also someone who is concerned with the “growing distance between the economically successful and those who have not or cannot begin to climb.” Noonan then emphasizes the billionaire’s point, “The division has become too extreme, too dramatic, and static.” I would agree! I think the key word is static, or stationary, unchanging. Anyone, wealthy or not, should be concerned with this.

Why is the Indian government so upset with the strip-searching of one of their diplomats? It’s because they don’t understand our legal system. Anyone who is arrested is subject to the same process. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, booking procedures are the same. The outcome may not be the same, too dependent on wealth and power, but if one does something to enter the “system,” they are processed the same.

The economic system in our country is becoming too bimodal, and this bimodality will “tear the country apart and give rise to policies that are bitter and punishing, not helpful and broadening.” Noonan finishes her article with some comments that got me thinking. The wealthy are concerned about the economic situation around them. Noonan stated, “And though they give away hundreds of millions of dollars to charities, schools, and scholarships, they don’t know what can be done to turn the overall economic picture around.” There is still globalization and technology improvements that ensure the way work is done in this country will stay changed. “Technology will continue to give jobs to the educated, and the ever-evolving mischief of men and markets won’t change.”

So what can the wealthy do? How much of what they give away go to charities that are not as effective as they could be, or are designed to keep people in their poverty? Maybe, instead of giving to some of the charities they have always given to, maybe they create new charities that will prepare the have not’s to participate within the new economy? Maybe we need to figure out what the skills needed in this new environment are and create a national training system that will help people develop the skills they need to work in this new environment. Do you remember what the number one reason was for people not getting hired are a company? It was the inability to pass a drug test!

I think we have the resources to be able to turn this around, I just don’t think we have the will to accomplish it. I think we are too busy pointing our fingers at each other, while expecting the government to do something. I think the wealthy should take the initiative to put together national training centers to prepare people to work in the new world.

Someone could say, why would they want to do that? I think this billionaire just gave them an excellent reason. “Every time the market goes up, the guillotines are coming closer.” Do we think that humankind has changed? Do we think that anything is different than the past when it comes to uprisings? I don’t think so. All of us want an opportunity, instead of designing a system that takes that opportunity away, lets design one that helps people to realize opportunity.

And that is my thought for the day!







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