Dean Barber

Wanted: A Tough Pragmatist Willing to Fight

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2012 at 8:29 am

I am fast coming to the conclusion that what this country needs is a good old fashioned trust buster, ala Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president who was not afraid to tangle with certain big business interests in order to do what was right for the country. And ultimately help business.

We also need a Franklin Roosevelt, a Democratic president who was not afraid to put millions of people back to work during a Great Depression by building public infrastructure via a Public Works Administration. And even if some critics called it “socialism.”

We could use another Dwight Eisenhower, another Republican president who understood that we had to build something big and important for the country, like an interstate highway system, which would make us more competitive on the world stage.

These three presidents, all of different political persuasion and beliefs, exercised leadership and had vision, which is in rather short supply these days. Leadership and vision emanating from our nation’s capital would help business define and invest in a future. It would bolster a diminished middle class and would do wonders in helping people get back to work.

The Courage to Compromise

As you might suspect, I am a bit of a political junkie, but I don’t plant my flag exclusively in any one camp. I have seen both conservatives and liberals that I respect if they demonstrate that they are thinking people who can get past political dogma and take the mantel of governance seriously and as a sacred obligation.

These three past presidents live now only in history. But if there is a common thread to their time in office, I would suggest that they all learned the fine art of be compromise, and had the courage to engage in it, sometimes even fighting their own party in the process.

Sadly, “compromise” is seemingly a dirty word these days in Washington where politics is a blood sport to obliterate the other side. Today, if a congressman or senator reaches out in a bi-partisan fashion, that person is viewed as weak and somehow tainted. It is always the other side’s fault. They are hopelessly misguided. There is no point in even talking to them.

So we have this toxic waste atmosphere in Washington, and no EPA regulations are going to be able to clean it up. Rather, only the American people can clean it up by pressuring their elected officials to get real and govern.

Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neal were able to overcome their political differences and broker ideas that would fly in both of their respective camps. Now that is my idea of governing, and both men are now viewed largely by historians as effective leaders. Despite their differing philosophies on how the country should work, they made it work. They compromised. They were grownups. They even liked each other.

Two Harvard Men

When I look at President Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney, I see two very intelligent and analytical men, and both Harvard men, mind you. I do not question their love of country as some might. But I do wonder whether I am witnessing great leadership and vision in either man.

And yet, I am confident that the Republic will survive whoever is elected president. We have proved to have a very resilient nation, even when duds have occupied the White House.

(Ok, here is where you partisans can launch into a tirade about my profound misunderstanding of your respective candidate and/or the other guy. Obama supporters, I am not calling the president a dud. Romney supporters, I am not calling your guy a hopelessly out of touch elitist because he climbs on a jet ski during a family vacation.)

Admission: I kinda actually like both of these men in a weird sort of way.

But I’ll not tell you the way I will vote come November. That is surely not the purpose of this blog. Heck, I couldn’t convince you one way or the other if I wanted to. But I do think you ought to look for grownups of both parties, even if you disagree with them on certain issues.

We need reasonable people who want to do good by our country.  Unflinching radicals, left and right, need not apply. Those who want to crush the opposition rather than work with it, need not apply.

Wanted: Tough Pragmatists

I’m not suggesting that our elected officials should not have core beliefs. Rather, I am suggesting there is often a middle ground to be found in governance.

Again, I can respect and see the wisdom of both liberal and conservative points of view, as both positions are quite defensible as a political foundation for belief. But I’m not looking for purists. I’m looking for tough pragmatists, people who can get the job done and will fight for the middle class.

Whichever party is in power in the White House, a loyal opposition should be just that — loyal to the interests of the country, loyal to making the country work and working with the president. That is a huge responsibility, and again, I believe that means the art of compromise rather than the practice of demonization.

Having said that, let me now change direction and do a little demonizing of my own. But I won’t be talking about any politician. No, I’ll be talking about a more dangerous lot.

Poor, Poor Pitiful Wall Street

I find it just short of amazing that with the fraud and greed that almost certainly brought our financial system to near total collapse and did result in the loss of trillions of dollars of wealth, that no criminal indictments ever resulted from the shenanigans on Wall Street.

The abusers were left untouched. But Wall Street, which backed Obama in 2008, gets miffed if the president plays to his base and tosses out words like “fat cats’’ when suggesting the rich should pay a slightly higher rate in income taxes.

Mind you, the administration never showed any intention or desire to bring anyone to heel for the wrongs wrought on our financial system, some of which I truly believe was of criminal intent. Nope, that never happened.

So let me get this straight, you are left unscathed, your industry is treated with kid gloves, but your feelings are hurt because of some rhetoric used by the president? Really?

Now please understand that I am not anti-bank. I like community banks. I like credit unions even more. But if a bank, particularly a Wall Street investment bank, is too big to fail, then maybe it’s too big to begin with.

Maybe it should be cut down to size, again, ala Teddy Roosevelt who promoted and strengthened capitalism by busting up anti-competitive trusts that were doing more harm than good. Maybe it’s time for a president, if not this one the next, to wield a big stick and start swinging.

Collusion to the Tune of Trillions

Now let us turn our attention across the pond to Barclays, Great Britain’s second-largest bank, which has admitted that it deliberately reported artificial borrowing costs from 2005 to 2009. The false reports were used to set a benchmark rate, the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, which affects the value of trillions of dollars of derivatives contracts, mortgages and consumer loans.

Yes, I said trillions, $800 trillion to be exact, which makes me wonder why we are not reading and hearing more about this. Frankly, I didn’t even know the world economy was worth that much.

But here comes a bank that defrauds the market with fake interest rate figures, thereby stealing from other banks and customers. Regulators and criminal prosecutors in Europe and the United States are investigating at least a dozen other firms to determine whether they, too, colluded to rig the Libor rate.

E-mails have been released showing collusion between bank traders, looking to protect profits and bonuses, and senior banking officials, who were hoping to convince markets that their banks weren’t in financial difficulty.

What is evident already is a total lack of self-restraint in an industry that should not be trusted to regulate itself. This comes following billions of dollars of trading losses at JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s out-of-control London unit, yet another example of a big-bank folly.

A Rigged Game

Where were the controls? Are these banks too big and complex to control, even for their own respective management teams?

With lackluster job growth in this country and stagnant wages, it is not surprising that many Americans have this gut feeling that they are being duped. A recovery that showed promise in the first six months of this year has stalled and now comes more stories of unfathomable amounts of money being gamed, largely at their expense.

No, I think it’s about time we see some prosecutions of those that have defrauded the system. I don’t care if they are in New York or London. If they broke securities laws, they need to go down.

I am not asking for sacrificial lambs to make us all feel better. Rather, I am asking for the pastures to be cleared of the wolves. Now it’s time to put a stop to this nonsense.

Teddy Roosevelt or “Old Hickory” Andrew Jackson would never have stood by and just watched. They would have launched into a fight to protect the American people from these predatory, anti-competitive behemoths who skew markets at the expense of others. That’s not capitalism. That’s not free markets. That’s highway robbery.

And, by God, we need a sheriff.

Dean Barber is the principal/owner of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

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  1. Great article Dean You should submit it to the major newspapers as an OpEd. I believe we could be led to follow a true Trust Buster like T Roosevelt. Thanks!

  2. I totally agree with your perspective. The gridlock in Washington has pretty much set back any chance for a recovery by years. The lack of ethics by the Wall Street (and their London counterparts) is criminal. The Tea Party practically dieifies Reagan, yet ignores what he did when faced with a similar situation of a recession and 9% unemployment…..he raised taxes.
    I’ve pretty much been a conservative Republican since Goldwater, but the party has gone so far to the right that I’m now a liberal Republican. I find the strange blend of religion and capitalism a bit too out the realm of reasonableness. Romney is moving more to the center, but I believe he will owe too much to the far right to do what is right.
    Anyway, I could go on forever, but I just wrote to say “nice blog”.
    John Emmons

  3. Right on, Dean! We all need to convey that finger pointing is simply a waste of time and energy. How long are we going to stand for these stalling tactics? I for one would like to see the same level of effort, that is passion and leadership going into working on initiatives that will rebuild the economy.

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