Saturday in the park (a muddy one to ponder muddy agreements)

The weather report for Saturday is better than our rainy Friday. Even if the sun emerges through the morning clouds, it may leave very muddy walking paths. So, as I take a muddy stroll, join me as I ponder a few muddy things.

Agreements between multiple parties are hard and take work. They are not perfect, but they provide opportunities to improve them. Leaving them when your co-signers ask you not to must be for very important reasons. Under the tutelage of the current US president, previous agreements are “disasters,” primarily because he did not work on them. Another key reason is multiple party agreements require give and take and focus on relationships.

Early on, the US pulled out of an agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership with Asian countries, the US, Australia and Canada. It was an imperfect agreement, but was defined to better enable competition with China. What is still very underreported is the other ten or so countries went forward without the US and signed a refined agreement, which is now in effect.

Around the first of June, 2017, the US president decided to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. We are one of a handful of countries who have decided not to be a part of this historic agreement. Remember the song, “You and me against the world?” That is the US. Ironically, the announcement was the day after Exxon Mobil shareholders voted to require management to share with them progress on addressing climate change (this followed two similar votes for energy companies in May).

Other agreements like NAFTA have been modified and rebranded, but the changes are not as material as the pomp and circumstance promoted. The agreement allowed for change and could have been repurposed a year earlier had the president not interjected last minute changes. This is a good example that agreements allow for parties to make changes at certain times. They need not be thrown out, especially when the throwing out is more optics than substance.

Finally, the Nuclear agreement with Iran and six countries, including the US, was also imperfect. But, it allowed for dialogue, auditing and commerce. Against the wishes of the six other countries and his key advisors in the Defense department, the president pulled out of the agreement. He also chastised the other five non-Iranian partners for not so doing and imposed more sanctions. So, rather than have a better, but tenuous relationship with Iran, we have escalating tensions with “no off ramp” per former Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens.

Agreements require hard work, collaboration and respect for the relationships. By their nature, they are long term in scope. When they are viewed through a transactional lens, especially one bent on perception than reality, their imperfections can be highlighted. If you have concerns (and all parties have them), the answer is go to your partners and suggest to fix them. Devaluing the relationship is extremely shortsighted and can be dangerous. That last word is on many people’s minds today.

Global Trade and Tariffs

While the US President proceeds with tariffs, 11 countries sans the US just signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that will reduce tariffs among theses countries. This is the infamous TPP that the President pulled out of early in his Presidency.

David Smick, an economic advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton said both Presidents loved global trade. It should be noted that more jobs were created under these two Presidents with Clinton #1 at 22.9 million and Reagan at #3 at 16.1 million (FDR was second). While we need to be mindful of and help employees impacted by job loss, we need to recognize global trade is accretive to the US economy and creates more jobs. We do well when we all do well.

As one global economist said, tariffs and trade wars are how recessions start. So, in protecting some jobs, we will likely be impacting negatively a much greater number.

Two misconceptions need to be challenged

“Innovation is portable,” said David Smick, an economic advisor to Congressman Jack Kemp and Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, in his book “The World is Curved.” In essence, innovation will occur where it is welcome and the initial jobs will be created around it. We should not lose sight of this observation as we discuss our economic future.

Smick surprised many when he noted in his book the similarities in Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who were the number one and three best job creating Presidents, in that order. They both loved global trade and hated deficits. And, they were known for their collaboration with Congress, even with an opposite majority in power. Collaboration is essential to getting buy-in and understanding of the problem and possible solutions.

With this context, we need to challenge some notions that do not tell the whole story and, as a result, could lead us down the wrong path. We need to look at holistic causes to problems, so that we can address them effectively. Our problems are not solvable by bumper sticker solutions, no matter how loudly and forcefully they are espoused.

Here are two of those simplistic notions and challenges to think about:

Immigration is taking jobs away. This is far too simple a statement. Our history has been built on immigration, who have tended to be hard workers and spawned a higher relative percentage of entrepreneurs. As noted in the famous play “Hamilton,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda based on the book by Ron Chernow, immigrants tend to work hard to make it in our country, as they did not have such opportunity from whence they came. Our economy actually flourishes more with immigration. But, as we look to better govern immigration, we should look at the whole picture. And, on the subject of illegal immigration, a concerted study of the impact of curtailing such on certain industries – housing construction, landscaping, agriculture harvesting, etc. – is critical as we move forward with better governance.

Global Trade is bad for domestic jobs. Global trade is actual good for a domestic economy creating more jobs around the world and here. The downside is companies tend to chase cheaper labor and always have, but an even greater threat to jobs is technology advances. A CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” an employer will hire no one if he could make it work. Yet, what creates jobs more than anything else is “customers,” per Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist. And, more trade means more customers. When we look to better govern trade, we need to look holistically at the jobs created domestically versus the ones lost. The ill-fated Brexit decision failed to consider all of the foreign companies who have European Headquarters, distribution and manufacturing sites in the UK. These companies are now reconsidering locations should Brexit move forward.

Of course, we need to better govern immigration and global trade, but we must guard against throwing the babies out with the bath water. Let me close with three thoughts.

First, we cannot shrink to greatness. Retrenching from your global market share makes little sense.  Second, think of all of the foreign companies who employ people in the US like Michelin, BMW, Mercedes, Husqvarna, Doosan, Volvo, Nissan, etc. who do so to keep manufacturing near distribution of its goods to their customers. Third, as an example, Steve Jobs is the biological son of Syrian immigrants. Had he not been in America, would Apple exist today at all or as an American company?

We cannot govern off bumper stickers. Our issues are complex. People who tout such ideas are doing a disservice to the problem and citizens through false promises.

 

 

Fish on Friday – a few odds and ends

Although I am not Catholic, fish on Friday is not a bad thing to serve. In the South, all of the “meat and three” places serve fried fish as one of their main entrees. Of course, we like to fry every thing here, as it makes our sweet tea taste better.

Without any particular order, here are a few odds and ends to digest with your fish and chips.

John Stumpf, the CEO of Wells Fargo was forced to resign yesterday, effective immediately, after it was revealed their cross-selling culture led to employees setting up bogus bank accounts to meet extremely high sales goals. This fraud abuse was reported by more than a few employees over many years, but their complaints were ignored. These are not process improvement suggestions, these are “we are doing fraudulent things” red flags. By ignoring these complaints, Stumpf earned the right to be fired. A company takes on the personality of its leader. Apparently, his personality was to get me numbers irrespective of how.

I don’t know if Americans are paying attention to the Brexit train wreck that is occurring in the UK. The UK wants to negotiate a soft settlement, but the EU wants them to get the hell out. In an unheard of move, Japan released an open letter, asking for the Brits to move gingerly or not at all, as Japanese companies employ about 146,000 people in Great Britain and will move their EU headquarters from there to the main continent, if needed. The Brexit move was sold on false information, but one thing that was not discussed enough is all the business done in the UK because of the EU. As many smarter than me said a few months ago, if the UK leaves, it will be harming its economic growth for years and may result in Scotland and Northern Ireland electing to leave the UK and remain in the EU. It is not ironic that Ireland is seeing an uptick in Brits who are seeking citizenship and passports there, as reported by The Guardian.

Americans are making that same mistake as we talk about trade, as we have a significant number of major foreign employers who employ many Americans. Trade agreements are generally good for the global economies, but as they are evaluated, we must evaluate all aspects, including jobs created here because of them. The biggest culprit of manufacturing jobs declining is technology and it will only get worse. Training for new jobs is paramount, but job loss due to technology will become so significant, at some point, companies needs to evaluate whether it is better to have humans employed rather than robots. At the end of the day, people need money to buy things, so are you lessening your own market, if no one can afford your products?

Samsung is in deep do-do. Just before the Christmas and holiday seasons start, they released a product that catches fire when plugged in. And, when they realized their predicament, traded phones with their customers and those caught fire as well. Apparently, the smaller version of the new Samsung Galaxy 7 does not catch fire, but many will choose not to take that risk and buy an Apple I-phone or another product. It is bad enough that pilots are telling passengers to not turn on those Samsung phones when taxiing. Between the lawsuits and sales impact, this will be the gift that keeps on giving for several years.

Well, that is enough non-election news for now. Have a great weekend.

 

Let’s be practical on issues of the day

One of the challenges in our current political construct is we are debating issues from the ends and not the middle. The ends represent extreme points of view who show less a willingness to compromise, some even within their own party. Yet, if we strive to discuss the issues and their complex causes from the middle, we will find more agreement and can get things done. Mind you, there is no perfect legislation, but oftentimes legislation and reasonable oversight is needed to govern and debating from the extremes stands in the way.

With an eye toward being practical, let me make a few observations that would enable better governance and get our national leaders back on better footing. This approach would also apply to state and local governance as well.

Immigration: Truth be told, if we deported everyone that some want us to, our economy would be harmed. Hard working immigrants and illegal aliens are not replacing Americans in jobs. They tend to be doing jobs that Americans do not want. If you truly want to stop illegal immigration, stop hiring them and that goes for our more conservative friends who are doing some hiring, too. Since we are not prepared to do so, then we need to work out a reasonable path forward. I would begin with the Senate Bill which was passed on a bipartisan basis twenty months ago.

Guns: Americans are killing too many Americans. Further, Americans are committing suicide at a rampant rate, by far the greatest reason for gun deaths in America (about two-thirds of annual gun deaths). The NRA represents gun sellers and not gun owners. Their voice has been heard. Now, let’s listen to parents and act like adults. Americans favor background checks on all transactions. We favor more elongated waiting periods. The police has recommended codifying bullets to better solve crimes. We should at least do these things as well as addressing other issues, but let’s start from the middle.

Jobs and economy: Some do not care to take notice, but the economy has been on the rebound and job and wage growth have been occurring. This is in contrast to other countries who are in or may fall back into recession. Now, we need to continue to retrain and develop people for new careers as we have a skills gap. Efforts have been under way within our community college systems with federal, state and local investment. Let’s further those efforts. Let’s also invest in our infrastructure and new renewable energy. We have needs and jobs in renewable energy are growing at a fast clip. There are almost twice as many solar energy jobs than coal energy jobs in the US and the sun shines in every state.

Trade agreements mean more economic growth: This is a path forward that has always been a growth enabler. An economic advisor to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton noted this similarity between the two. President Obama has also been pushing trade in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Europe which is excellent policy. And, with their 11 million people and proximity, the US Chamber of Commerce has regarded favorably lifting the embargo with Cuba, which is as large as an US state.

Health care: Let me reiterate a message that continues to get drowned out by those who want to drown it out. The Affordable Care Act is showing some success from multiple measures. And, this success is in spite of the self-inflicted and opposition winds in the sails. What is not being said enough, is it could even be more successful if the remaining states expand Medicaid. In my view, the ACA is actually aiding the economy, which is contrary to opposition rhetoric. Why do I say this? With more people covered, they are using health care services more. These healthcare spends coupled with their ability to use other dollars for other goods and services is spurring the economy. So, rather beat on their chest to satisfy the extreme views, our legislators should listen to Americans and improve the ACA.

I could mention others issues, but these five areas will help us continue down a better path. Everyone’s voice needs to be heard, but I would pay attention to those are willing to listen. If someone is too busy shouting at the end, they will not hear you. Let’s govern from the middle.