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Additional points to ponder
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Forsyth County News
A few months ago I started what is intended to be an occasional change in format. There are always a number of issues floating around which seem, at least to me, important but which can be dealt with in less than a full column. So I thought, from time to time I would try to capture a few of these “points to ponder” as they come to me -- with no particular pattern -- and see if they strike a responsive chord.

The importance of reaching 60. Nope, not talking about age. The recent announcement by two Democratic senators that they planned to retire has gotten the Democratic Party in an uproar. Media pundits and Democratic leaders lament the fact that they may lose the magic number of 60 which allows them a filibuster-proof Senate.

But there is another side to this, which can be seen by the wheeling and dealing that has gone on around the health care bill, where a few Democratic senators have held up the nation. In essence, to secure their support, (perhaps “purchase” would be a better word), the Senate leadership had no need to engage in debate, but had to enter into negotiations with them and, thus, undermine the integrity of the legislative process.

With less than 60 votes, the situation changes dramatically. It is no longer a question of pure power ("I have the power to do what I wish regardless of your desires"). Instead, it will require at least some degree of dialog across party lines, to attempt to convince (though the “purchase” option is still there) members of the opposition party to provide support and, perhaps even better, to work out meaningful compromises. Rather than look at this as a blow to party dominance, perhaps these two Senators should be applauded for taking an action that may, indirectly, ultimately benefit the nation.

The nature of government. I recently came across a quote by James Madison that I thought worth pondering. In the late 1780s, a series of more than 80 articles was published in New York newspapers (anonymously at the time), written by Alexander Hamilton (later first secretary of the treasury), James Madison (principle writer of the Constitution and later fourth president of the nation) and John Jay (first Supreme Court chief justice) in support of ratification of the U.S. Constitution. These collected works became known as the “Federalist Papers” and represent one of our great treasures, as they outline the thoughts and issues of men who devoted their lives to giving birth to this nation. Two themes that run through many of the articles are concerns about “majority rule” and the need for checks and balances on the power of government.

In “Federalist 51,” Madison wrote: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.” I wonder what Madison would think if he suddenly found himself in the Washington, D.C., of today?

The meaning of public rage. A recent “BusinessWeek” article, titled “Raging Against the Street,” quoted a Bloomberg National Poll indicating that “the public rage directed at Wall Street banks and brokerages remains at high levels.” It indicated that two-thirds of Americans have an unfavorable view of financial executives.

The same article estimated that, (despite recent history and the uproar) the investment banking units of three of the top banking firms will hand out $29.7 billion in bonuses this year -- a new record high “and up 60 percent from last year, when all three banks took billions in support from the Treasury to weather the financial crisis.”

Seems like “business as usual." I wonder how we now define “rage.” Perhaps raising one’s eyebrows is all that is necessary to qualify. People may be perturbed, but it’s clear that there is no concerted action to change the status quo, and without new energy directed toward changing the trajectory of things, inertia keeps things moving on the same course.

Rethinking globalization. I believe globalization is a good thing  -- but then I tend to define globalization in terms of building international bridges and taking balanced approaches toward investment and international trade -- a balance which considers both long-term as well as short-term consequences.

To many people in the U.S., “globalization” simply means businesses shipping U.S. jobs abroad to take advantage of cheaper labor costs. I couldn’t agree more with those who oppose this practice. But the problem doesn’t rest solely with the business firms. Most of us are unable to visualize what happens on a macro level, and business organizations and government agencies have been wholly ineffective in presenting this picture.

The macro level is simple. A manufacturer sends its production capabilities overseas. On the plus side, its products become less expensive and, therefore more competitive. On the negative side, local jobs are lost. The argument is that we will ship only the manufacturing abroad and build, instead, on our intellectual capacities -- retaining design, research and development and all of the creative portions of business.

But the macro level is quite different. It doesn’t work that way. A recent Harvard Business Review Article by professors Gary Pisano and Willy Shih entitled “Restoring American Competitiveness” focuses on the connection between manufacturing, R&D and innovation. Where the first one goes, the others eventually follow. In essence, we are impairing our future, as we lose the capability to produce and the engineering skills to innovate with both manufacturing processes and associated product improvement.

A key issue is that without an understanding of the long-term effects, the purchaser, or consumer, is likely to think solely in terms of lowest cost. Somehow, we need to convey the message that a longer view of national well-being may require more than comparing current price tags. Only in such an environment will businesses dare take more balanced approaches. We need national policies and communications programs that will encourage the rebirth of manufacturing in this country, and perhaps it should start in the elementary, high schools and universities of this nation.

Hope these encapsulated thoughts stimulate more thinking about the issues. Be delighted to receive your ideas.

Dr. Melvyn Copen lives in both Georgia and Arizona. He is an educator and businessman who has worked and lived in many foreign countries and provides consulting services throughout the world. His column appears every other Wednesday. Please share your comments with him via e-mail at