Moses came down from the mountain with one. I go to the supermarket with one. Even Santa Clause must depend on one to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice.
Yes, ever since we have been scratching on cave walls, people have been making lists. My wife is very adept at making honey-do lists, essentially assignments of things that she determines that I should do. With list in hand, I dutifully do.
This time of year, you will see lists compiled usually by feeble-minded editors who are desperate for any copy to publish in the guise of news. Hence, they come up with what they proclaim as the biggest stories of 2012.
And while there may be some rationale to their judgments, this is all very subjective and depends on your point of view, your industry group and your location. I couldn’t help but notice, for example, several of the top stories in 2012 as compiled by the editors of Food Manufacturing magazine.
“Toxic Grass Responsible For Cattle Deaths” was ranked the No. 3 story of the year, about a rancher in Central Texas losing a herd to, well, toxic grass. And how could I not take note of the No. 2 story: “Worker Cooked To Death At Tuna Plant.” Not particularly appetizing.
Geography matters. The top stories of 2012 in say Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, will likely be much different than, say, Gnaw Bone, Indiana. But I think the Moose Jaw Times Herald got it right for all of us everywhere when it began its Dec. 21 editorial with this line: “There has been far too much talk of the end of the world.”
So my No. 1 news story of 2012 is the fact that the Mayans got it wrong and we’re still here. But in honor of those ancient Mesoamericans, who were a pretty resourceful bunch, my wife and I ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant Friday night.
Now I will not offer you a list of the Top 10 news stories in 2012 as the Associated Press recently did. Rather, I will offer you some stories as being particularly noteworthy from the viewpoint of a former feeble-minded editor and now a simply addled consultant. Bear with me please.
Cliffmas Time is Coming
“I am sick of hearing about the fiscal cliff,” my wife said, staring at me as if I were somehow responsible.
“Yes, dear, so am I,” I said, hoping that my tepid response would somehow alleviate the situation and not force me to explain why I was not at fault.
But it’s clear that Congress is leaving Washington, DC., with no agreement having been fashioned with the White House on how to avoid what would be massive tax increases for us all and potentially sending the economy into a tailspin.
This really is a very big deal, but no deal has been made, which puts us all at risk.
Yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party, House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million. The speaker is now saying that President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should come up with legislation to avoid more than $600 billion in tax-and-spending changes that would probably cause a recession in the first half of 2013 if left in place.
Obama and Boehner had been edging closer to a deal that would have included $1 trillion each in tax increases and spending cuts. Now it would appear that we are headed over the cliff. Hold onto your hat.
It’s a New Dawn
Analysis of exit poll data from prior elections shows that voter support for GOP Mitt Romney among white evangelical protestants was the same as for George W. Bush in 2004 (79 percent for both GOP candidates). The big difference, of course, was that George Bush, with sizeable Hispanic support, won.
The demographics of the United States are changing. White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2043, according to new census projections. We are witnessing a historic shift that is reshaping the nation’s schools, workforce, electorate, and how we do business.
So my other big story of the year is the reelection of President Obama, which in no small part was due to his support from 78 percent of non-white voters. The country’s changing demographic mosaic has stark political implications, as was evidenced by the president winning his second term.
Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. I think that should be a wakeup call to the GOP that they cannot remain largely a party of perceived grumpy old white guys. Notice that I said perceived, as I realize that some of you are not so grumpy.
Business leaders, which by and large backed Romney, are now making a beeline to the White House to make peace and even urge Republican lawmakers to cut a deal with the administration on the fiscal cliff. More than anything, business people want certainty so as to better make decisions. Uncertainty is always a great enemy to capital investment.
This Economy is Ours
According to the National Bureau of Economics, it was December 2007, five years ago this month, that unemployment rose to 4.9 percent and the Great Recession began.
The unemployment rate would eventually rise to 10 percent, but it recently has dipped to a four-year-low of 7.7 percent. Today, there are clear signs of recovery as builders broke ground on more homes, and November was the best sales month in nearly five years for U.S. automakers.
But I am starting to wonder if our current economic predicament reflects a fundamental technological change in what work is and how value is created. As we adapt to transformative technology, we know that fewer people are needed to produce even greater revenues. The assumptions that we’ve lived with for a very long time — that each generation will be more prosperous than the last — may no longer hold true.
But things are looking up to a degree. Consumer spending, which typically accounts for two-thirds of the US economy, rose 1.6 percent from July to September. Purchases of existing houses in November increased 5.9 percent to a 5.04 annual rate, the most since November 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors. Some analysts predict that home sales will take off in 2013, and thereby lift consumer confidence even more.
But still we must be reminded that long-term unemployment lingers at levels not seen since the Great Depression. As of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year. It remains our national human tragedy with homes lost and dreams destroyed.
High unemployment poses a threat to our future growth, as the long-term unemployed become viewed as unemployable, as societal cast-offs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates our annual production falls short by $900 billion a year of what it could be or 6 percent of GDP. The Great Recession, which technically ended in June 2009 after 18 months, is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of those who do without.
I suspect that the economy will be my biggest story for many years to come, because it touches us all in such a personal way. Lives change because of it, for the best and for the worst.
America says Enough
The Associated Press listed the slaughter of innocents at Newtown, Conn., as the biggest story of the year. Certainly it has touched us in ways that can only harken back to 9-11 in its impact on the national psyche.
I do not expect that the National Rifle Association’s answer for an armed guard in every school in America to be a practical solution, although tightened security will result. I expect that legislation will come out of Congress restricting the sales of certain types of guns and large-capacity magazines as well as addressing better access for mental health.
The NRA may prove to be the emperor with no clothes. It didn’t have to be that way, of course, but the NRA’s tone-deaf leadership has become radicalized over the years, opposed to background checks at gun shows, opposed to a public ban on armor-piercing ammunition or high-capacity magazines.
Newtown very well may become the NRA’s Waterloo. America, where Second Amendment rights will be protected with common sense, has had enough.
A Parting Note
I started this blog, my last for the year, in my characteristically silly way and ended it on an all too serious note about how we address what can only be described as a national tragedy. I realize and expect that you will not always agree with my observations and opinions. Admission: Sometimes I look back on what I have written and don’t agree with myself.
But I do hope that this blog may have served you, if only occasionally, in thinking about things, usually on matters of business and commerce. I am no leading authority on anything. Rather, I am a business consultant with certain ideas, some of which might be worthy.
And I feel very blessed and privileged to be writing for those of you who may follow my rants and musings. I am not sure if that speaks well of any of us. But I do hope that you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the principal 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com