When most people think about the Roaring Twenties, the highlights quickly come to mind. Women in the U.S. gained the right to vote in 1920. People of that era also witnessed the advent of broadcasting, a steady climb-out from the post Word War One recession, and a shift in emphasis, from wartime production, to a new mass production that yielded an abundance of consumer goods. In our reprise one century later, we hope to tap the enthusiasm that characterized the twenties of a century ago as we also consider ways to avoid the pitfalls.
The 1920s were capped off with a global depression, caused by recklessness, the counterfeit wisdom of many who occupied the commanding heights of the U.S. economy. The 2020s began with a similar, all too familiar recklessness. It started with a depression that is, in no small part, also attributable to such run-of-the-mill selfishness on the part of the inheritors, skimmers and hoarders of wealth.
The fiscal policies of the years preceding 1920 and those preceding 2020 have certain common elements that suggest our leaders have failed to learn from history while dooming the rest of us to repeat it. A pair of once in a century global pandemics revealed that the so-called “smartest guys in the room” ran their businesses in such a way that they failed to maintain a rainy day fund, they paid their employees poverty wages that made it almost impossible to build any kind of savings on a personal level.
Where the 1920s ushered in a frenzied era of mass consumerism. Today we must place a new emphasis on a form of consumerism that is far more intentional. We will borrow the best from the earlier era’s artistic, social, and cultural dynamism. And we will, at the same time, give preference to those businesses that exhibit a genuine culture of benevolence.
John Wycliffe, in the preface to his fourteenth century middle English translation of the Bible wrote: The bible is about government of, by, and for the people. This principle is reflected in the cardinal precepts of the United States Constitution through the first three words: “We the People.” The thread was later highlighted when Abraham Lincoln said: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The Horse and Sparrow Theory of Economics holds that, if you feed the horse all the oats it wants, the sparrows can subsist on the undigested oats that are to be found in the dung piles along the road. Since this theory was advanced in the 1890s, a number of efforts have been made to disguise a clear condescension and disgust, the most privileged among us hold, for We the People.
Today, the same theory has undergone some name changes to make it a bit more, if you’ll excuse the expression, palatable. Leaky, trickle-down, and supply-side are among the names floated to make such unmitigated selfishness less discernible and thereby less offensive to the masses. All of the inequities on our planet are directly traceable to such depraved heart indifference and unconscionable attitudes.
The United States was formed when the founders sought to throw off the yoke of those they described as “foreign potentates.” Then over time, the ownership of certain companies and corporations transitioned from control by the enthusiastic entrepreneurial cohorts that formed them, to the domestic robber barons, and then to a new generation of outside investors, foreign potentates.
These inauthentic companies and corporations are no longer characterized by people associating for a common purpose or acting corporately. Their fate is rather in the hands of outside investors that have no deep-set stakes in the companies or the countries in which they operate. The Supreme Court of the United States has effectively promoted a strangely sociopathic form of corporate personhood through a clear lack of intellectual rigor, together with its failure to differentiate between the persons within, against a fictitious oftentimes heartless overlay.
What if we could strike, perhaps even force a better balance? What if outside investors could participate without siphoning the life plasm out of our enterprises, without exerting the kind of control that has resulted in hollowed-out benefit packagers and subsistence wages? After all, the compensatory costs, such as housing, heating and nutrition assistance are borne by the taxpayer. Think about how vibrantly alive and competitive our companies and our communities could be if everyone within them was truly enriched by them.
That passes for conservatism today is, for the most part, penny wise and pound foolish. It is, at times, even parasitic. How much healthier would our democratic republic be if the outside investors were unable to exert a distorting influence in the name of those by whom the company actually operates?
To effectively convert or sunset such pretentious companies, while raising a new 21st Century enterprise architecture, can help to cure the ills of our otherwise abundant world.