Posts Tagged 'Ronald Reagan'

Power to the People?

34 years ago today the chartkillspeopleworld changed in a way that isn’t as spectacular or as talked about as some of the major tragedies or accomplishments as they are often portrayed in the drama hungry media.

On August 5th, 1981 Ronald Reagan ushered in a mindset that mass layoffs were acceptable with the firing of over 10,000 employees during the air traffic controllers strike. He also banned the workers from returning to the profession for the rest of their lives!

The merits of their arguments and the various points of view have been debated. It should not be forgotten that the strike itself was illegal, as mandated by the sometimes controversial Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which prohibits any labor strike that can cause unfair harm to those not involved or negatively affect general welfare and commerce. The union leader at the time has gone on record since, acknowledging that they botched it, were too arrogant, and didn’t understand a lot of the underlying politics, not to mention the power of spinning public opinion in one’s favor (or not).

Up to this time it was not common to use mass layoffs to handle strikes. This incident eased those inhibitions significantly. Reagan broke the union (it should be noted that the union that eventually replaced it got most of the demands the fired employees were asking for), and in a way galvanized a growing mindset that unions were too powerful and not in the best interests of the economy overall. While Reagan may have been ‘right’ in some ways, and was viewed as effective in quickly restoring order to a situation that was getting out of control, the message that was taken has had some dire long term consequences.

We often don’t/can’t know the consequences of perturbing a system, especially one as complex as the economy with the various complications of the corporations and the workforce driving it. Reagan’s actions communicated from on high that it was acceptable to use swift and massive layoffs to help guard against a short-term economic disruption. Though he never intended it as such, there was now a precedence for protecting commerce before protecting people. Social conventions that had restrained CEO’s from doing something many would have liked to do were disrupted. Not surprisingly some began to take advantage of this tacit permission to take such dramatic action affecting the lives of so many. It became gradually more and more common for workers to be viewed simply as assets and liabilities on a spread sheet, with the math at the bottom supporting their actions to make the numbers for a quarter in efforts to appease stockholders and justify, if only in the short term, the CEO’s position to the board.

Protecting the money eventually became a clear imperative over protecting the people. The very concept of putting a number or resource before a person flies in the face of the protection our anthropology says leaders (alphas) are supposed to offer. It’s kind of like a parent putting the care of the car a child rides in before the actual care of the child. On the surface it may appear to make sense sometimes, but our biology knows better.

Now we much more commonly see leaders, whether CEO’s, politicians, record labels, news organizations, or bankers betray the trust of the very people they are supposed to be serving, often by allowing outside, unengaged constituents to have too much influence over decisions and actions, all in the interest of short term gains and the almighty dollar. When people are lower down the priority list they are less able to operate from a secure position and do the really great work. They are more prone to operate from a position of fear and insecurity, which leads to more focus on the short term protection derived from looking good than the profound work that will make the big difference. Differentiation and innovation give way to commoditization, which ironically spells trouble in the long run.

Contrary to what many would say these days, or at least contrary to where their actions take us, the power, or at least the care, needs to be in the hands of the people, and they need to be provided with an environment where humanity and social relations and the accompanying support they provide can prevail. If we listen to our biology, which at this point in time is what it is, we can cultivate environments that take advantage of our core strengths as social animals. At the most practical level, companies who bring a better value to the table will do better in the long run, and studies have shown that companies with more rigorous financial scrutiny tend to have fewer patents, and the ones they have are generally less profound. Give the people the leadership and security to do their best work and the results will come in time.

Or the few who forge their way to power can try to protect it and hang on at all costs, with all of the stresses and difficulties running rampant in our culture today.

There is a better way.

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