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New Day

December 30, 2010

I’ve been away from WordPress for too long. I started this a few months ago and just got back to it. The message hasn’t changed though. As we approach the New Year, I thought it would be good to reflect.

Raising The Colors Again

An October dawn is moments away and the lobster boats are sliding slowly through the mouth of the Nonesuch River past Prouts Neck and into the Gulf of Maine. The last remnants of a hurricane, the steady winds from the Southwest, rip at the flag, bending the aluminum pole slightly to the left, then snapping it at its base. The beach is littered with broken lobster pots and fouled lines. The sky has cleared but dark clouds stand on the horizon as reminders of the peril so narrowly averted. It’s a visual metaphor that speaks to me about the nation and our new life after a different sort of storm.

We’ve come a long way since the pre-election fervor of 2008. That storm raged for months and was filled with passion ending with a stunning combination of joy and tragedy. A new president was elected in a remarkable victory for democrats, people of color and the voices of progressive change. In the very same instant, America was blasted by the winds of an economic typhoon that seemed to arise out of nowhere and sent wave after wave crashing against our financial, industrial and psychological shores. These were not separate events. They are intimately bound. The forces that spawned each arose from the same place: the failure of a society to understand that it’s continued success depends upon its citizens’ concern for others as much as their concern for themselves.

For over a decade the politics of America has been shaped by the notion that government is bad and the bigger it is the worse off we’ll be. Institutions and regulations put into place to temper the allure of personal gain at the expense of the public good were dismantled. Publicly funded education, health and social services were systematically berated and broken down on the theory that private enterprise could better serve the public good unfettered by government interference. The inarticulated premise was that private business, unencumbered by the constraints of government meddling was better suited to serving the public good than government itself. That was the flaw, for the only purpose of private business is to make money. The duty of a company is to make profits for it’s shareholders. Period.

Without control, that duty morphs into a greed driven short-sighted lust that has no concern for the good of society. Worse, it blinds the individuals at the helm to the perils in the company’s path. Harvesting every lobster you can makes for a great catch today, but is ultimately self-destructive and, more importantly, destructive of the entire industry.

We’ll have to get another flag pole and raise our colors once more. We’ll have to set our pots along the new shoals we’ve chosen to explore. We’ll have to recognize the dangers of business models that are too good to be true and unmask those who promote wretched excess as a way of life cloaked in a disingenuous banner of stars and stripes.

It’s harder than it sounds. Economies are much like ecologies and flagpoles: Appearing strong and invincible, they are actually fragile and can snap in a strong gale. The success of all systems requires deep understanding, constant maintenance and thoughtful oversight by those concerned more about sustainability than present rewards. Lobstermen understand that.

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