Sunday, July 18, 2010

Long wave economic perspective ... great technology but pathetic performance.

Dear Colleagues

Once in a while it is worth stepping back and looking at the long waves of socio-economic history.

I was thinking about the BP oil spill and its impact on the population of the Gulf States ... and then thinking that some of the American public expects that "government" should take control so that this never happens. This raised a question about the socio-economic history of the USA and the question "What would the stock market be valued at if the EPA rules had been introduced in the 1870s rather than in the 1970s?". I would guess that the Dow would not have broken 1,000, let alone 10,000 if the economy had been subject to EPA rules since the emergence of the industrial economy.

But then I thought that if politicians and business leaders were really making good decisions rather than spending most of their time scratching each others backs and figuring out what is optimized self interest, then perhaps the Dow would be around 20,000, or even more.

The progress in science and technology over the past fifty years is amazing ... but the performance of the corporate and political world in using this for public good is dismal. My one liner about information technology being a million times more powerful than when I started my career and information itself still in the stone age is a manifestation of quite pathetic leadership over several decades.

Hopefully a younger generation will "get it" and set about some reform that will enable meaningful data to be used to improve decision making and socio-economic performance ... hopefully these metrics will embrace value as well as profit. With good decision making and good allocation of resources and truly fair trade the productivity of society can be improved and some good progress made from poverty towards prosperity and widespread improvement in the world's quality of life.

Government needs to get out of the way ... but at the same time business leaders need to ensure that their decisions are responsible not only for the corporate owners and managers but all the stakeholders including customers, employees and society at large.

In recent years government (courtesy of convoluted legislation and regulation only a lawyer could love) has been getting in the way, but worse, corporate decision makers have been milking the system to serve themselves and their corporate stockholders at the expense of employees, customers and society at large on a scale that is arguably an order of magnitude worse than the era of the "robber barons!"

It is time for value accounting to be adopted. Stay tuned.

Peter Burgess

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