The Robber Barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake — a coal mine, a railroad, banks. This man leaves nothing. He creates nothing. He builds nothing. He runs nothing. And in his wake lies nothing but a blizzard of paper to cover the pain. Oh, if he said, “I know how to run your business better than you,” that would be something worth talking about. But he’s not saying that. He’s saying, “I’m going to kill you because at this particular moment in time, you’re worth more dead than alive.”
God save us if we vote to take his paltry few dollars and run. God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters.
• Andrew Jorgenson, played by Gregory Peck, Fictional CEO of New England Wire and Cable, Other People’s Money (read the full text and and listen to the speech at the terrific AmericanRhetoric.com site here. Watch the speech on youtube here).
I don’t make anything? I’m makin’ you money. And lest we forget, that’s the only reason any of you became stockholders in the first place. You wanna make money! You don’t care if they manufacture wire and cable, fried chicken, or grow tangerines! You wanna make money! I’m the only friend you’ve got. I’m makin’ you money.
• From the response by Lawrence Garfield, played by Danny DeVito, the fictional head of Garfield Investments, from the same movie. Full text of speech here. Watch the speech on youtube here).
Here’s the issue: “traders” (making money by trading things) vs. “builders” (real assets in the real economy).
In The Great Reset by Richard Florida, the list of thoughts to ponder is long. This is one that I can’t quite get out of my head. (by the way, I am sure many others have made this point – I just happened to have it jump out at me in Florida’s book).
For most of us, we tend to think of work as doing something tangible – almost physical. Although, admittedly I have not worked with my hands for a living since my short stints at a service station, and at a tennis center (in my junior high school days, when I checked the oil and put air in the tires, as I put in the gasoline, at Self Texaco in Harlingen, TX; and taught tennis one summer at a park/tennis center in Abilene, TX). Today, I get paid for speaking – actually for reading, pondering, preparing, and speaking. I suppose I am one of those “knowledge workers” that we all read so much about.
But Florida is talking about a more basic problem. He is talking about the outsized role of “finance” — finance disconnected from its earlier, far more constructive purpose. Here are a few paragraphs from the book:
The role of finance changed from being, in the words of William Black, a “servant” of the economy to a “predator.” Instead of supporting the real wealth producing parts of the economy, (the finance sector) has become a parasite on them.
We’re witnessing a replay of the age-old conflict between “traders” and “builders,” as Geoff Beattie, the head of Woodbridge, dubs it. Traders make money off, well, trading things. They create little or no real wealth, because they do not engage in productivity; they profit through trading. Builders, on the other hand, focus on investing in real assets in the real economy…
The landscape today is littered with instant tycoons who made their fortunes on tiny upticks in the stock market or by trading shares in other people’ debt.
For far too many of these traders, the only productivity was profit and their only customers were themselves.
I raise this to make this point: builders need to take their preeminent position back from the traders for the economy of the future to flourish.
I think Mr. Florida is correct. When more people work in the “real economy,” and when more people invest in investments in the “real economy,” the economy will be healthier than when people work in, and invest in, only the “fantasy economy.”
“Fantasy” – that’s what much of the finance sector sold and practiced in recent years. And this “fantasy economy” created the bubbles that crashed. And we now know how that turned out.