A Nation at Risk--Revisited
by Donald Orlich - May 02, 2003
April 2003 marks the 20th anniversary of a federally sponsored commission report - A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. The ultimate result of the politically biased tract was to usher in massive untested, trial and error, educational reforms costing billions of dollars with no positive educational effect. This satire quotes much of the actual commission report as written. Only the subjects and verbs are changed to reflect how it might be released today.
All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual economic well being and powers to the utmost. This promise means that all by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment yielding economic independence, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own monetary interests but also the progress of society itself.
Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our businesses and industries have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the economic well-being of its people, the economic foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity and neglect that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur- our captains of industry and Wall Street investment bankers are creating economic chaos and unprecedented decline in market capitalization.
If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre and unethical economic performances that exist today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed corporate greed to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in individual wealth made in the wake of the Dot Com fiscal morass. Moreover, we have weakened and even dismantled essential fail-safe systems that helped make previous financial gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral economic disarmament.
Our society and its economic and business institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of capitalism and the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them. This report seeks to generate reform of our economic and business systems in fundamental ways and to renew the Nation's commitment to develop moral and ethical business leaders of the highest caliber throughout the length and breadth of our land.
That we have compromised this commitment is, upon reflection, hardly surprising, given the multitude of often-conflicting demands we have placed on our Nation's business leaders. They are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the government and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands often exact social and moral costs as well as financial ones. Therefore this report is as much an open letter to the American people as it is to the Secretary of Commerce and the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We are confident that American people, properly informed, will do what is right for their personal and immediate economic gain and for the generations to come.
History is not kind to idlers. The time is long past when American's destiny was assured simply by an abundance of natural resources and inexhaustible enthusiasm, and by our relative isolation from the malignant problems of older and corrupt industrial tycoons who morally bankrupted older economies. The World is indeed one global village. We live among determined, well-financed, and strongly motivated competitors. We compete with them for international standing markets, not only with products but also with the ideas of our laboratories and neighborhood workshops. America's position in the world may once have been reasonably secure with only a few morally and ethically well-trained industrialists. It is no longer.
The risk is not only that the Japanese make automobiles more efficiently than American SUV's and have government subsidies for development and export. It is not just that South Koreans recently built the most efficient steel mill, or that American machine tools, once the pride of the world, are being displaced by German products. These developments signify a redistribution of capital throughout the globe. Capital is the raw material of international commerce. If only to keep and improve the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our capitalistic system for the benefit of all-old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Honest and ethical business leadership is indispensable for success in the "information age" we have entered.
Our concern, however, goes well beyond the matters of industry and commerce. It concerns the moral, ethical, and spiritual strengths of our "captains of industry." The people in the United States, nay, the world, need to know that business executives and CEO's who do not have the highest ethical and moral standards will be disenfranchised, not simply from the material rewards that accompany honest, ethical, and moral financial reporting; but also from the chance to participate fully in our national financial affairs. The investors in our capitalistic system are now demanding substantial reform.
INDICATORS OF RISK
We shall now illustrate with undisputed disclosures the economic risk that this Nation now faces. First, the President of the United States has proposed a national budget for FY 2003 of $2.23 Trillion. This budget proposal unveils for FY 2003 a $304 Billion budget deficit and another $307 Billion for FY 2004. From FY 2003-2007, the projected shortfall totals $1.084 Trillion. These are signals from the White House to spend, spend, spend after having inherited a $236 Billion budget surplus from the Clinton administration.
Second, accompanying this massive debt-ridden budget proposal is a call for a national income tax cut and the elimination of the taxes on dividends. Our calculations show that the nation's wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers, those making over $356,000 per year, will get about 50 percent of the benefits by eliminating personal taxes on dividends. Tax breaks are really government subsidies to the rich. Keep in mind that in Texas just 48 wealthy families provided more than half the campaign funds for major Republican state candidates in the 2002 elections. One can observe the correlation of beneficial tax legislation and wealth.
Third, at the federal level it was revealed, early in 2003, that the e-rate program, which subsidizes Internet connections in public schools and libraries, is riddled with fraud. Again, this is evidence that immoral and unethical entrepreneurs are among us.
Fourth, at the CEO level this Nation has observed obscene, immoral, unethical behavior that challenges free-market fundamentalism. We were shocked by the Enron and Andersen Accounting frauds. These were closely followed by financial disasters in TYCO, Tenet, WORLDCOM, Kaiser Aluminum, United Airlines, Global Crossing, Adelphia, and CONSECO; to list but a few.
Fifth, the condition of our economy was worsened through market-place-factors when some of our largest capitalized companies lost their financial leverage. For example the following market and world leaders lost at least 50 percent of their value due to our economic crisis-General Electric, Microsoft, Cendant, AT & T, McDonalds, Cisco, Intel, Corning, AOL Time Warner, Lucent. All Americans who have 401 K plans, or who invested their IRA's in these American Icons suffer catastrophic losses in their retirement programs.
Sixth, greedy, unethical, immoral and unscrupulous CEO's directly precipitated the cause of America's economic malaise. When CEO pay is measured in the tens of millions of dollars, one begins to fathom the depth of corporate greed. They are not alone; the behavior of "Wall Street" is equally disgraceful in its lack of critical information disclosure. Why weren't market analysts and specialists examining the most obvious "cooking of corporate books?" They must all be held accountable to the American people for these Un-American actions.
THE TOOLS AT HAND
We are confident that America can address this risk. We must be forceful in reforming our economic infrastructure. We must reverse the weakness of moral fortitude in corporate boardrooms, eliminate confusing visions, reverse the lack of leadership and reshape the institution that has given us a better life. The raw materials are in place. We cannot have patience with undemanding and superfluous boards of directors or investment banking houses that "look the other way." The public demands high requirements that set world class standards.
The public supports the prospect of constructive reform. The best term to characterize it may simply be the honorable word "patriotism." Citizens intuitively know what economists have shown in their research that good business behavior is one of the chief engines of our material well being. Citizens also know in their bones that the preeminence of our safety depends on the wit, skill and spirit of self-confident people. It is therefore essential-especially in this period of long-term economic decline-for government at all levels to affirm its responsibility for nurturing the Nation's capitalistic enterprises. We cannot allow one more great American industry to fall to world competition and continue to observe the layoffs of tens of thousands of Americans. The citizens of this great country demand that business accountability be at the top of the Nation's agenda.