Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where is the Change?

You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” Albert Einstein

I would love to see the economic crisis end. I think we all would. However, I have little faith in President Obama’s economic leaders because they come from the same mindset that caused the problem. They are the consummate insiders trying to restart their broken system.

I believe the root cause can be traced back to Wall Street and financial speculation. As I’ve written before, the solution resides on Main Street, not Wall Street.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is a fairly traditional economist whose thoughts, beliefs and training have all been from the consciousness that created the problem. The same is true of Secretary Timothy Geithner. Both come from the world of banking that is at the core of this mess and because of their history, have mental models that can only see a solution in that arena. I believe it would be impossible for them to envision a world without our current monetary system (private bank that creates and controls money) or the behemoth financial sector from where they emerged.

As I’ve stated before, much of our financial services sector does little to add real value to our economy. Trading paper is not economic output despite what we’ve been led to believe.

I wonder where we’d be if we stopped focusing on the banks and instead focused on the American people. How far would $9 trillion go towards fixing our economic problems if we targeted that money towards Main Street instead of Wall Street?

I suspect their solution (buying worthless assets with taxpayer money) will cause as many problems as it might solve. I have a real fear of hyperinflation as the government floods the economy with more money to purchase worthless assets from private banks and investors. They’ll get the money, we’ll get the bill and in the end, will have nothing real and tangible to show for it except little pieces of paper.

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

Friday, March 20, 2009

Taxes, AIG bailout and more

I was going to blog about taxes so I started researching the federal budget and looking for an image to post.  

I really wanted to discuss the residential energy-efficient property credit, which was extended through 2016 and which generally covers solar electric, solar water heating, fuel cell property, small wind energy and geothermal heat pump property.  I also wanted to discuss the non-business energy property credit for insulation, exterior windows, exterior doors, furnaces, water heaters and other energy-saving improvements to a main home which was not available in 2008 but returns in 2009.

However, the AIG bonus hysteria got in the way of a deeper discussion on taxes. 

First, I don’t believe anyone is worthy of a multi-million dollar income and lifestyle while we have needy children in our midst.  That is one of my beliefs and values.  I think billionaires are evidence of a flawed system.

While I’m opposed to the whole Wall Street bailout and the more than $9 TRILLION spent on this fiasco to date, what gets me is the missing perspective on the AIG bonuses.

AIG Bonuses = $165,000,000 ($165 million)

Missing Cash in Iraq = $12,000,000,000 ($12 billion – 73x more)

Official cost of Iraq war to date = $656,100,000,000 ($656.1 billion – 3,977x more)

Wall Street bailout to date = $9,400,000,000,000 ($9.4 TRILLION – 56,970x more)

The AIG bonuses amount to 2/1000th’s of the cost of the bailout!

FYI:  Missing from the "official" cost of the bailout is government guarantee and insurance programs like the FDIC ($1.5 trillion), FHA ($.3 trillion) and the Federal Reserve ($7 trillion).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Return on Sustainability

Kudos to my Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI)colleague Kevin Wilhelm, for the publication of his new book Return on Sustainability.  Kevin shows the clear business case for sustainability and dealing with the climate crisis proactively.

Kevin highlights the risks and opportunities climate change poses for business.  As I've stated in previous posts, there are opportunities for companies that 'truly' embrace sustainability and Kevin digs into the details including:  enhanced brand value; improved customer, employee and shareholder relations; and better climate performance all at the same time.

As Kevin points out, climate change touches on every aspect of a business: Energy; transportation; innovation; waste; supply chain; employee retention and morale; investor pressure; brand value; customer loyalty; market opportunities; cost savings; tax; regulatory; carbon trading; and leadership.  

Given all that, don't you think a comprehensive strategic business plan should address climate change is a serious manner?  What we learn at BGI, and what I teach my clients is how to address sustainability and climate change in a comprehensive way.  Kevin's new book helps bring that understanding to a wider audience.

Treating climate change as an ancillary issue creates mostly costs for business whereas addressing sustainability comprehensively allows a company to capture the opportunities.

Think of the technological revolution back in the 80s.  Companies that embraced technology in a strategic and comprehensive manner left their competition in the dust.  Those who were slow on the uptake were forever relegated to playing catch up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Single-Payer Health Care

We are over a year into this crisis and we have yet to see a single reform beyond massive government spending programs designed to restart the same system that created the mess.   Isn’t that akin to using a defibrillator on a 75-year old, 1,000lb, diabetic smoker?

While I’ve been advocating the elimination of Wall Street, the implementation of a Carbon Tax with a 100% dividend and the 32-hour work week, today I’ll weigh in on health care reform.

One fundamental change I support [and we don’t hear enough about] is the Single Payer Health Care system. 

Single-payer is the system that removes private insurance companies from the picture; the government pays all the bills, but health-care delivery remains private. People still get their choice of doctors and hospitals. Single-payer reduces administrative costs and eliminates expenses for-profit insurance companies add to health-care delivery. 

How nice it would be to never have to worry about health insurance again!

This would benefit everyone, including business.  Managing health care plans is an expensive proposition for business.   Beyond the high cost of coverage are the hidden costs of shopping for insurance, evaluating options, legal and tax compliance, HR overhead, employee benefit education and communication and other administrative costs.

Despite being closed out of the debate by corporate media, single-payer is developing critical mass.  H.R. 676 "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All," has 65 co-sponsors in Congress.  I myself won’t vote for a politician who doesn’t support universal health care.  Groups like Single Payer Action (I am a paying member) are growing and taking action.

I believe all of us suffer as a result of our for-profit health care system.  We need a system where everybody is in, and nobody is out.  Single-payer is the solution.  I hope you’ll take action (contact Congress, talk to people, get educated, tell your story, etc.)  right now, to help further single-payer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm opposed to the Cap-and-Trade system

I believe we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we need to do it quickly.  I also believe a market solution is the best solution. While I laud the goals of carbon reduction, I believe a Cap-and-Trade (CAT) system is an unnecessarily complicated scheme only Wall Street could love (and politicians afraid of the word “tax” and US citizens to dumb to understand CAT is a tax.) 

CAT is essentially a carbon tax wrapped into a security.  Do we really trust Wall Street and the financial speculators to responsibly handle a trillion dollar market created to equitably solve a social problem?  I don’t.

Instead, I support a simpler, more transparent, and easier to understand, straight-forward Carbon Tax with 100% dividend distribution to U.S. citizens.  With a 100% dividend distribution, this tax would be revenue neutral for the government since all proceeds would be returned to the people in the form of a rebate.

The tax would be collected as the fuels enter the US market and that would be it.  The additional cost would flow through the system and affect all CO2 emitters.  This would internalize the price of polluting, making it more expensive to emit CO2. 

Since all monies collected would be refunded, those that pollute less than average would actually get a net rebate while those who pollute more than average would be the ones ultimately paying more.

The tax code is regularly and successfully used to promote or discourage certain behaviors.   I believe a simple, revenue neutral Carbon Tax is the way to reduce carbon quickly and fairly.

A Carbon Tax is supported by both Al Gore and NASA scientist and climate expert Jim Hansen.