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The political divide and long term thinking - Phil's Rambling Rants — LiveJournal
August 31st, 2006
10:02 pm


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The political divide and long term thinking
I just had an interesting thought about the political situation.

Most, if not all, of the political issues I really get worked up over are long term issues.  I worry about things that I see happening in five, or twenty, or even a hundred years far more than I worry about things in the next six months, because in terms of my day to day life, things are mostly OK for the immediate future, but the long term future seems bleak.

On those big issues -- global warming, overpopulation, the loss of wild places and the creatures that live there, the ever-mounting national debt, attacks on civil liberties in the name of fighting the bogeyman of terrorism, the religious right's attempts to force everyone to live by the rules of their religion -- I, and most of the people I hang out with metaphorically in the political sphere, take one position, and the Republican power structure and most of the people who hang out with them metaphorically take an opposing position.  This isn't news, of course; but what's interesting is that all of these issues are issues where I am really worried about the future that I see coming, and that is why I take the stands that I do.  I infer a common thread in their positions that they're worried about the present and not so much about the longer term future.

I find this interesting because I see the same dangerous and inappropriate lack of concern for the long term future in another area of modern American existence:  the management of publicly traded American corporations.  Because of the way our economy is structured, our corporations have a pathologically short time horizon for their decision making.  I could discuss this, and the reasons for it, at length, but I hope that my readers will accept that the problem exists, because it leads directly to my real point.

The real power behind the Bush gang is the money of the big corporate interests.  In a roundabout, but still real, way, the same people that call the shots for our corporations are the people who call the shots for our government -- because politicians who don't follow the agenda of the big money don't get the big money for their campaigns, which means they lose elections to candidates who do get that money.  And the people who call the shots in the big corporations are the people who have been able to rise to and hold onto power in our corporations, which necessarily means they're people who are used to thinking in terms of the short term and not the long term.  Executives who worry about the long term perform worse in the short term than executives that don't, so over time all the executives are only people who don't worry about the long term.  That mindset is the main thing that's wrong with our corporations.  My new thought is that that mindset is ultimately what's wrong with our politics too -- the lack of real concern for the future on the part of the Bush administration is directly caused by the structural short-sightedness of our corporations.

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(5 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:September 1st, 2006 03:48 pm (UTC)
I think you are right on target. I currently work for an organization that has completely lost sight of anything beyond the next fiscal quarter. This lack of foresight is causing pain for the employees and the clients but apparently the board of directors, the CEO, and the chief stock holders don't care about anything beyond this quarter's perceived profit and the share price.

It is demoralizing, discouraging, and (when I have the energy) extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, I don't see anything much better in other organizations. I think this is more true of the publicly traded organizations, but I'm starting to see a similar trend in state-run organizations such a school districts and universities.
[User Picture]
Date:September 1st, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
My point isn't that businesses are stupidly short-sighted; I take it as a given. My point is that there's a direct connection between the way the people running corporations have to think to maintain their jobs and the way those same people think when they turn to politics.

Republicans often talk about how government needs to be run more like a business, but the way businesses are run these days, that's not a good thing.
[User Picture]
Date:September 1st, 2006 05:21 pm (UTC)

My point (or at least my current observation) is that this behavior/attitude is spilling over into more than politics. It used to be (in my experience) that educational institutions at least had more of a grasp of the long view. In the last decade, I've personally seen a big change in that arena as well. In my opinion, "high-stakes" (or Exit) testing is one indicator of this.

It isn't just our corporate and political culture that is severely short-sighted, it is (or is becoming) our entire culture on a personal and public basis. Look at the lack of foresight many individuals have regarding their own physical and financial health. Heck - even the entertainment industry has moved in this direction (it used to take at the very least an entire season before a television show was canceled, now it can be canceled after only a couple of episodes don't make the ratings target).

In my opinion (as a generality) our society consistently chooses to ignore long-term consequences in favor of short-term gratification. We often seem to choose short-term limited solutions for our problems and assume that the long-term situation will just "take care of itself."

I agree that the current state of politics is related to current state of business, but I think it runs deeper than that.
[User Picture]
Date:September 2nd, 2006 02:15 am (UTC)
It's always hard to divine where the root cause of something is; everything is interrelated. There certainly is a general lack of sensible attention to the future in our culture, and I hadn't considered that before. But just off the top of my head, I think the business culture is pushing the general culture at least as much as the general culture is pulling business.

I hope that's the case, anyway. I can understand what's wrong with business. There are concrete, logical reasons why it works the way it does, and that means it's at least theoretically possible to address those reasons and improve the situation. Correcting the fact that people in general are stupid is hard to imagine solving even in an "if they made me king" thought experiment.
[User Picture]
Date:September 2nd, 2006 03:17 am (UTC)
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