Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crises and Political Possibilities

My friend Jon Shayne (AKA Merle Hazard) recently remarked that the U.S. was likely on the brink of serious social unrest a year ago. I think he is right. My fear is, we need that threat (or reality) of crisis to make possible the political changes we need. But if we have patched up the system just good enough now, it makes those decisions more difficult, if not impossible. I am thinking particularly of the balance between self- interest and common goods that needs to be recalibrated, which will require the promotion of civic virtues--and what the Germans would term solidarity--that are difficult in wild-west free markets in mature economies. Yesterday, David Brooks (in one of his most insightful columns ever) wrote that we have to decide if we are going to be an unforgiving but highly dynamic economy/society or a more staid, secure, and in his word civilized, society.

Self-Image and Ethical Consumption

I have argued elsewhere that buying organic and green products feeds into consumers’ self image. Alex Rehding asks if that means there aren't any extrinsic benefits. Sure, image can come to overshadow the substance (and our hyper-capitalism seems to encourage those sorts of perverse incentives). But, like buying a BMW, say, one cannot really fully disentangle the luxury/status angle from the more or less objective mechanical and engineering qualities. And since self-image w organic is tied to making real changes, I actually see some political potential there.
In fact, at the wider level of promoting civic virtue (I know, I know, it sounds so 19th century, but a modern, tolerant, multiculti version of civic, not religious, virtues) it can be powerful. We need to recalibrate the societal balance between self-interests and common goods, and that will require such new civic virtues, even if their privatized consumptive aspect is troubling

Handelsblatt on German Eggs and Consumer Desires

See Germany's Handelsblatt coverage of my recent talk on "German Eggs and Consumer Desires"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

World's Most Powerful People?

Forbes, the People magazine of Ayn Randish executives, and so fond of lists, has a new ranking out: "The World's Most Powerful People"

There are the obvious picks (Obama comes in first, Putin third), but the meshing of economic, political, and cultural power makes for some odd pairings: Sergey Brin ranks nine places above Angela Merkel, and 5 places above the Pope; Oprah Winfrey places 11 slots up from Nicolas Sarkozy and eight spots down from Osama bin Laden.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BMW Management Salaries

BMW recently announced that it will peg all of its management salaries to worker wages to ensure the two grow at the same rate and that a large gap does not appear. At BMW a board members earns about 25 times average wages, and that will now be the established ratio. (See Deutsche Welle article

The gap between executive compensation and average worker wages has skyrocketed in the U.S. since the early 1980s. Today CEOs on average earn more than 300 times average worker wages. The comparable figure for Germany is less than 20 times average wages, and for Japan less than 12 times average wages.