Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
The world is separating into two main groups – those who have substantial and growing net worth, who have ready access to capital, and those who are drowning in an ever-expanding pool of debt, with few options to improve their situation. This phenomenon makes for some interesting comparisons and for countless prognostications about what the future might hold for all of us.
An obvious example is the stark contrast between the work ethic, manufacturing and engineering prowess of Germany, and the socialist decay and corruption that has pushed Greece to the brink of disaster. Germany is basically the banker for the weaker countries in the European Union, including Greece. While this may make economic sense in the short run, it may prove folly in the long run. But what is more curious to me is whether Germany should feel a sense of moral obligation to help its weaker neighbours.
Rocco Pendola wrote an interesting article for TheStreet.com - "Are Cash Cows Killing America?" – in which he compares Apple to the State of California. Apple, headquartered in Cupertino, CA has over $110 billion of cash on its balance sheet, an amount which dwarfs the state budget deficit of $15.7 billion. The author poses the question whether Apple has a moral responsibility to do something about this imbalance. Perhaps write a check to the state and wipe out the entire deficit? More broadly, corporate America has about $1.5 trillion in cash, just about enough to cover our federal deficit. These companies earned this cash in no small part due to the capitalist system this country has provided. In our country's time of need, should these corporations ante up? There are certainly those who believe so.
Whose moral obligation?... As the chasm between rich and poor widens there is a growing sense that the rich are under a moral obligation to help the poor become less so. What bothers me about this is that the level of moral obligation seems to be directly related to how rich a person is. Putting a price tag on morality does not build a sense of camaraderie; it only further polarizes our country. We should all feel a moral obligation to help thy neighbour independent of our relative net worth. There is an important role for everyone, rich and poor, to solve our nation's problems and to build a strong and growing economy.
What will make the country come together and end this era of destructive polarization? For the record, World War III is not an option. But if we keep blaming others for our collective woes, we simply won't come together to solve them.
To show a firm grasp of the obvious, I would mention that our government is not exactly leading the charge to unite the country to tackle our significant challenges. Each side blames the policies of the other in an endless cycle of biased, shallow rhetoric that prevents effective resolution to any of our problems. But what would one expect in an election year? Perhaps after the election things will change...
But I doubt it... Without a dramatic change in government, we will continue to struggle with paralyzing gridlock, leaving the proverbial can to be kicked down the road one more time.
There is always the slight chance that a grass roots movement will emerge that will lead both political parties toward the middle in a spirit of compromise. This will take charismatic leadership and a unique voice, which hasn't yet been identified.
What would that voice say?... It might start with the famous quote from the late Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?" Certain things have to occur for this to happen. Here are a couple to ponder...
First, let's commit to teaching the next generation to live within their means and to understand the importance of disciplined, long-term investing and to sacrifice instant gratification. Second, let's commit to demonstrating that cheerful giving of our time, talents, and finances, is a universal calling. Those in need will not care what we know until they know that we care.
Are these really that difficult to do?
Michael Kayes, CFA