Character Politics

Three editorials in today’s Washington Post contained statements that carried suggestions about the character of the American people today.

Richard Cohen focuses on the deluge that many people feel as times have abruptly changed on them. He opines that a generation or so ago, “One had the feeling that what with wars and famines, disease and ruthless economic cycles, one could never really control one’s own life.” He compares today to the change wrought by the Great Depression and notes that “The people of the 1920s and ’30s were tough, hard. They did not expect all that much from life, and they had learned to expect next to nothing from government.

In contrast, we are soft, coddled. We actually thought that we could have a house we could not afford and a mortgage that we could not pay and that it would all somehow work out. This keeps being called the American dream. It was actually the American delusion.”

This agrees with a fantastic book by Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism from 1979, in which among other things, Lasch noted changes in our attitudes toward work and a softness in our characters and a focus on our individual selves.

Eugene Robinson applauds Obama’s budget submission and long-term view. “There’s a reason Obama’s approval ratings remain so high. He senses that Americans yearn for greater fairness and accountability, especially after the excesses that threaten to wreck our economy and destroy so many dreams. He knows that American individualism is tempered by the need to feel community in the nation and the world.”

Is Robinson correct? Can the wealthy see their paying of a higher percentage of their money in taxes as equitable? Are Americans willing to forgo certain individual perks for the greater good?

The founder and CEO of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, asserts that government stimulus money needs to offer incentives for entrepreneurship and innovation. Such allocation helps small businesses invest and grow, reimagine their products and services, and assess their strengths. Localized innovation develops the economy from the ground up.” Most of us agree that high paying jobs and new products are necessary for the country’s recovery. Some wonder how many jobs and products social networking sites create.

The focus in on comments about character and Hoffman offers this observation about venture capitalists without any irony, “Venture capitalists are biding their time — not for want of good ideas, solid management or stable capital but to ensure that they can get the most bang for their buck. Similarly, venture capital firms are waiting for the slide to stop and the recovery to begin before investing.”

He seems to be saying that the money in this country wants to maximize their individual take and make the most of the situation on a personal level. They will wait until the bad part is over regardless of whether their act could help the recovery take place sooner.

The culture of narcissism wins out.

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4 comments so far

  1. spiritualway on

    Might the timing for most efficent use of capital be not narcissism but capitalism. Two examples come to mind; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Had they attempted to start their ventures a few years earlier more than likely they would have failed. Yet from this “timing” in use of capital much “greater good” came from the success of these organizations.

    Just a thought; timing as well as ordering the efficent use of capital plays some part in success of ventures.

    • bla2222 on

      I do agree that timing in funding isimportant. However, if the timing for funding projects is so bad then why would the author of the opinion expect the taxpayers to invest. Why should tax payers lose money?
      If the timing is only so so then shouldn’t we expect some venture capitalists to invest now and make a little less money then to wait until they can optimize the cash earnings?

  2. spiritualway on

    Personally, I think the author (Hoffman) is off base to even suggest government investment, especially if he means direct investment in a venture capital opportunity. He uses the word “incentives” so I’m not clear if he is speaking to direct input of capital or possibly tax incentives.

    As to the return on investment you are speaking to in your last paragraph, only maybe one in ten pure venture capital investments actually “pans out” so the return must be very, very big for a venture capitalist otherwise you are better to invest in much less risky investments.

    He is correct in when large amounts of capital move into venture capital opportunities and when an economy is in freefall as ours is at this moment it won’t happen simply because even when “timing” is optimal it is very high risk investing.

    Lastly, true venture capitalists are very rare birds; the last twenty years has seen market conditions so “easy” that every “Tom, Dick and Harry” on Wall Street and in some esoteric tech business thinks he’s a venture capitalist.

    Just because of that condition alone I think your blog on character has value. I hope the President keeps the government stimilus monies focused on infrastructure projects and safety net projects because what I see coming is going to test the very fabric of our society and culture. In my view, our economy has not begun to “unwind”.

    • bla2222 on

      I appreciate the insight into venture capital. It is not really an area of expertise for me. I agree that the investment in infrastructure is necessary to both create current jobs but also as a lynchpin to creating future r & d and product development.

      I also agree with you regarding the state of the economy. Kevin Phillips’ book Bad Money only enhanced my dismay over private debt, and the tenuous purchasing link between oil and the dollar, let alone our energy needs etc.

      Perhaps my blog focuses too much on the character vs responsibilities of only venture capitalists. I intended to raise this equation for all members of the U.S. society, including myself. I held the belief that we would undergo a kind of refocusing on the responsibilities portion of the equation under Obama. I as much as many others, are seeking direction and consequences for actions.


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