When I can’t tell what political party someone belongs to after reading their article, that’s when I start to take them seriously. Case in point: Joe Nocera’s column in the NYT on Monday entitled What Is Business Waiting For? It’s short, but here are some of the salient grafs to get you started:
President Obama’s idea of job creation is extending unemployment insurance, on the one hand, and painting grandiose pictures of far-off “green jobs,” on the other. He is bereft of ideas for creating jobs in the here and now. Meanwhile, the Republicans insist — despite mounds of evidence to the contrary — that more tax cuts would create jobs. By now, most Americans have lost hope that our current government will come up with a viable jobs program. It won’t.
I am coming more and more to think that with the government essentially paralyzed for the foreseeable future, the only way we’re going to get jobs is by turning to actual job creators: business itself. With all their cash, companies shouldn’t be waiting for Congress to give them tax incentives to hire people. They should be trying to jump-start the economy — and fend off another recession — by making investments, and hiring workers, that will lead to renewed prosperity.
So why the eerily accurate sloth imitation, fellas?
What makes that hard for executives is that they’ve spent the last 30 years having it beaten into them that the only thing that matters is delivering “shareholder value.” Over time, this phrase has become code for focusing on short-term profits — and chief executives who have ignored this mantra have often found themselves kicked to the street by impatient investors like Carl Icahn.
But fuck short-term profits, says Nocera (though not in so many words).
Indeed, it turns out that the focus on short-term profits is nowhere enshrined in the law. On the contrary: Delaware law, where many big companies are incorporated, gives directors enormous leeway to ignore short-term gain if they believe that doing so would ultimately benefit the corporation.
Of course, if you’re the only company in your industry willing to sacrifice in the near future to ensure stability in the medium-to-distant future, you’re probably going to be operating under somewhat of a disadvantage. Perhaps what is needed, then, is an approach akin to the one Tom described last week involving the hoped-for obliteration of the electoral college.
Marc Groz, a financial risk expert I’ve gotten to know, has what I think is a more intriguing approach, which he calls a “contingent commitment facility.” “Everyone is waiting for someone else to go first,” he told me the other day. Using his facility, a company would agree to hire X number of new workers. But the commitment would only become binding if certain conditions were met — such as having other companies in the same industry agree to do likewise. Once that happened, all the companies would have to do what they’d promised.
Groz’s idea is new and fresh and untested. It could fail. In other words, it is exactly the kind of out-of-the-box “job creation” idea that our stymied government no longer has the ability to come up with. The ball’s in business’s court now.