Millennials Blame Capitalism for “the Crushing Burden of College Debt”?

(p. A22) “Millennials don’t remember the Cold War,” said Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College who has studied democratic socialism. “They don’t react in the same way to the word ‘socialist’ and associate it with totalitarian communism.”

Instead, young voters have experienced a structural shift in the economy, including the 2008 financial crisis and the crushing burden of college debt, that has given them a more critical view of capitalism, he said.

For the full story, see:

Patricia Mazzei and Sydney Ember. “Sanders’s Views on Cuba Split Young and Old Voters.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A22.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Sanders Is Stirring Cold War Angst. Young Voters Say, So What?.”)

Chinese Communist Officials Rewarded for Loyalty, Not for Competence or Boldness

(p. A1) The Chinese people are getting a rare glimpse of how China’s giant, opaque bureaucratic system works — or, rather, how it fails to work. Too many of its officials have become political apparatchiks, fearful of making decisions that anger their superiors and too removed and haughty when dealing with the public to admit mistakes and learn from them.

“The most important issue this outbreak exposed is the local government’s lack of action and fear of action,” said Xu Kaizhen, a best-selling author who is famous for his novels that explore the intricate workings of China’s bureaucratic politics.

“Under the high-pressure environment of an anticorruption campaign, most people, including senior government officials, only care about self-preservation,” Mr. Xu said. “They don’t want to be the first to speak up. They wait for their superiors to make decisions and are only accountable to their superiors instead of the people.”

The Chinese government appears to be aware of the problem. The Communist Party’s top leadership acknowledged in a meeting on Monday [February 3, 2020] that the (p. A9) epidemic was “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

. . .

Chinese officials are spending as much as one-third of their time on political studying sessions, a lot of which are about Mr. Xi’s speeches. Political loyalty weighs much more in performance evaluations than before. Now the rule of thumb in Chinese officialdom seems to be demonstrating loyalty as explicitly as possible, keeping everything else vague and evading responsibility at all costs when things go wrong.

. . .

On social media, low-level cadres are complaining that they are receiving so many instructions from the higher-ups that they spend most of their time filling out spreadsheets instead of getting real work done. In a social media post headlined “The Formalism Under the Mask,” the author wrote, “Most people in the system don’t do things to solve problems. They do things to solve responsibilities.”

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “In China, Virus Spurred Rush of Blame Shifting.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 5, 2020): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 14 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Coronavirus Crisis Shows China’s Governance Failure.”)

Cheering Entrepreneurs “Because They’ve Lived the American Dream”

(p. B1) Wall Street’s disdain for the bottom-up populist campaigns of Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont has gotten a lot of attention. The candidates’ full-throated attacks on corporate greed, extreme wealth and banking excesses are backed up by ambitious plans to upend the industry’s everyday operations.

Wariness extends far beyond an elite financial fellowship, though, to many small and medium-size businesses whose executives are not reflexively Republican but worry that the ascendancy of a left-wing Democrat would create an anti-business climate.

. . .

Michael Brady, the owner of two employment franchises in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the independent business executives interviewed who feel unappreciated. “I get up before 6 o’clock every morning and work hard,” he said. “I put 200 people to work every week.”

Mr. Brady, 53, said he voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Mr. Trump in 2016. Since then, he said, some of the president’s actions and “some of his tweets” have made him cringe.

He said he could vote for a Democrat this year. But he finds several of the economic proposals from the party’s left wing off-putting, mentioning free college tuition and a nationwide $15-an-hour minimum wage.

What particularly irks Mr. Brady, though, are some of Ms. Warren’s statements about successful entrepreneurs’ not having built their businesses entirely on their own. Attacks on the country’s wealthy elite have also grated.

“When did the word millionaire or billionaire become a bad word?” he asked. “I cheer those people on because they’ve lived the American dream.”

For the full story, see:

Patricia Cohen. “Employers Are Leery Of Warren And Sanders.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 18, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 17, 2020, and has the title “Trump Fans or Not, Business Owners Are Wary of Warren and Sanders.”)

“Openness to Creative Destruction” Discussed on Power Trading Radio

John O’Donnell interviewed me at 6 PM 11/8/19, about my book “Openness to Creative Destruction” on his weekly Friday show on Power Trading Radio. (In the screen capture above, Merlin Rothfeld is on the left and John O’Donnell is on the right.)

“To Be Profitable, You Have to Have a Purpose”

(p. F2) When a group of the nation’s largest companies said last month that they had changed their mission strictly from making profits to also include benefiting “customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders,” it was generally applauded as an important step in the right direction.

. . .

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in his first public comment on the topic, flatly told me: “I wouldn’t have signed it,” stunning a room of policymakers and business leaders in Washington at last week’s DealBook DC Strategy Forum.

His explanation was nuanced: “To be profitable, you have to have a purpose. I think it’s not as simple as saying we either have a purpose or we have profits. I think the problem with creating a simple answer is it doesn’t fully explore the issues.”

He added: “I do think companies should be long-term oriented. I don’t think companies need to necessarily be focused on quarterly profits and hitting Street earnings numbers. But I think, ultimately, a business’s job is to deploy the capital correctly and to make profits.”

Stephen A. Schwarzman, the co-founder and chairman of Blackstone Group and one of only a handful of members of the Business Roundtable who declined to sign the document, also went public with his explanation in a conversation with me earlier this week: “I know why we’re in business: because people give us money to manage. They want us to earn a lot of money to give them back or else they would give us nothing.”

He said “the idea that business should be concerned” with employees, customers, suppliers and the community should be a given. But, he said, he objected to the idea in the Business Roundtable statement that profits should be listed as simply equal to the other four issues.

“I have trouble managing when I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said, suggesting the statement gives managers too many masters. “I know what I’m supposed to be doing, which is making good investments, safely, and making a great contribution to these pension funds and regular people.”

For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Profits or Public Interest?” The New York Times (Thursday, September 19, 2019): F2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 18, 2019, and has the title “Profits or the Public Interest: The Debate Continues.”)