Dean Barber

The Issue for Our Time

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2014 at 6:00 am

It was 1998 when I left the newsroom after a 20-year stint working with daily newspapers. It was a good run. I have no regrets.

Newspaper work was probably the hardest work that I ever did, and I truly loved it. My identity was wrapped into what I did like nothing I have ever done since. I lived and breathed it 24/7. The ink was in my blood,

To this day I’m not quite sure why I walked away from it. I was the business editor of The Birmingham News in Birmingham, Ala. I think I just wanted another challenge, and I got it with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

As director of international development, I had a dream job that sent me all over the world. I think I got up to eight languages on how to ask for a beer and the restroom. (I may be down to three or four now.)

My Sixth Sense

Both journalism and economic development have left their marks on me today as a consultant and to good advantage. I’m jesting here, but economic development taught me how the patient nurturing of a garden could result in the sprouting and growing of very lovely plants that would bring joy to all. Peace in the valley. Let freedom ring.

Whereas journalism taught me death by deadline, a hell-for-leather mission to expose any and all conniving bastards who deserved exposing, bringing the walls down around them by laying out the facts for all the world to see. No prisoners taken. Rawhide!

But seriously, probably what journalism taught me more than anything was how to dig for information, to go beyond the surface and ferret out what is real from what is, how should I say this delicately? … bullhockey. Call it a sixth sense.

Giving Edges

My resulting investigative skills and nature now serve my consulting clients well. Ascertaining information that can be used in a strategic manner can give an organization a big competitive edge.  And that’s what my consulting business is all about – giving edges to those I serve.

And largely because of my newspaper upbringing, I strive to write in plain English rather than in some jargon-inflated consultantese. Some of that proffered gobbledygook may initially look or sound pretty impressive. But when you actually parse the words, you’ll see they’re often just calling a duck a duck.

So the skeptical and somewhat cynical journalist will always be a part of me. I’ll often question the official line, because sometimes it simply needs to be questioned. Digging below the surface, I’ll find that sometimes it’s accurate, sometimes it’s partly accurate, and sometimes it’s just a bunch of bullhockey.

Recognizing the Big Story

And I also continue to look for the “big story,” that mega-trend in business that can be leveraged in order to get that competitive edge. That holds true in both my site selection consulting work for companies and my economic development advisory work for communities.

 I’m no futurist, mind you. If I was one of them, I would be able to charge three or four times what I do now. But I do lean forward and try to figure out what the heck is going on.

So during the past year, in speeches that I made around the country and in this blog, I have been telling about this new digital machine age that I believe that we are in the early stages of, and which is having consequences on how we work and maybe more importantly, who gets work.

I have also been talking and writing about this shale gas revolution, which if I would have predicted five years ago, I would have been termed a nutjob. Truly, the hydraulic fracturing technologies have unleashed a huge natural resource that can and should give the United States a competitive advantage in terms of energy costs vis a vis the rest of the world for decades to come. And that can only bode well for our manufacturing sector.

Now a Mainstream Issue

But the story that I have not written much about, but which may be the biggest story of all, is now becoming quite mainstream. Indeed, I’m convinced it is being talked about around kitchen tables throughout America. And that subject matter is the inequality that exists between the ultra-rich and the rest of, well, us.

Many if not most leading economists believe this wealth gag, now the widest since the 1920s, has a detrimental affect on both big business and small business alike, and thereby creates a drag on our economy and economies worldwide.

This was the overriding topic this past week at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where heads of state, Nobel laureates, CEOs and media titans gathered.

Although Pope Francis didn’t go to Davos, his message read at the opening ceremony helped put inequality at the forefront for the event’s 2,500-plus attendees. The pontiff urged business leaders and global influencers to put people above profits, and use their wealth to serve humanitarian causes.

“I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” the pontiff said.

A Growing Embarrassment

“The kind of people over there (in Davos), other than the professors, are making a great deal of money more than their predecessors were a generation ago,” University of Maryland economist Peter Morici told CNBC.  “This is a growing embarrassment. The differences in income between Wall Street and the rest of America are astronomical.”

Also last week, on the eve of Davos, we learned that the combined wealth of the world’s richest 85 people is now equivalent to that owned by half of the world’s population – or 3.5 billion of the poorest people. 

In a report titled “Working for the Few,” the global aid and development organization Oxfam reported that the wealth of the richest 1 percent of people in the world now amounts to $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.

Bad for Everyone

Henry Blodget, co-founder, CEO and Editor-In Chief of Business Insider, one of the fastest-growing business and tech news sites in the world, writes that “America is rapidly becoming a country of a few million overlords and 300 million serfs.”

He contends that such polarization is bad for everyone, including the overlords.

“Because when inequality gets bad enough, serfs can’t afford to buy products from overlords. This hurts the overlords’ ability to get even richer. And that’s what’s wrong with the American economy right now. The serfs are tapped out. The overlords are responding by cutting costs (firing serfs), to increase profits. Unfortunately, one person’s “costs” are another person’s “wages,” so this is making the problem worse.”

Blodget says, and I believe he is correct, that increasing taxes on the rich is not the answer, as it only inflames arguments of class warfare and has people yelling of socialism.

“The best way to fix inequality is to persuade our overlords that it is in their best interests to share more of their wealth by paying their employees more for their work — work that, not incidentally, is what makes the overlords rich,” Blodget wrote. “In other words, the best way is to persuade companies that it’s better to focus on creating value rather than just profit.”

I like Blodget’s reasoning, but it will be a tough sell to shareholders who are very much focused on profits.

A Rigged System

A Gallup poll published this past week shows that 67 percent of Americans are displeased with the ways income and wealth are distributed.  Exactly three-fourths of Democrats said they were “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied, whereas surveyors recorded 54 percent of Republicans agreeing to the same question.

“I really think this is the issue for our time,” co-host Joe Scarborough said on Tuesday’s Morning Joe. “We’ve got a system that is not just rigged by politicians in Washington, D.C.”

The Gallup poll suggests that people are really hurting after 30 years of stagnation for the middle and working class.

“This is not about party,” said Scarborough, a former Republican congressman. “We’ve got a systemic problem, a generational problem, and we’ve got to fix it or this country is not going to look like itself and this world isn’t going to look like itself 15 years from now.”

Joe is right — this is the issue for our time, and we’ve got to fix it.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

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  1. Thanks Dean for another well written article. This is a message the American people must understand if we are to have a decent standard of living for our working class and our economy to survive in the world economy. I’m not for a government solution but a solution that comes from our people, both the rich and the poor. This was the engine that built our country and created the standard of living we have enjoyed.

  2. Good morning Dean, Thank you for another article, pertinent and thought provoking throughout. The attendees at the Economic Convention in Davos indeed might be the holders of the majority of the world’s wealth resources, earned and retained hopefully through socially acceptable means.In my days of employment, I searched for the employer that I was proud to associate with, much in the fashion I would seek a livable neighborhood for my residence. I no longer have this need directly but am concerned for the following generations.Mentions of concern- A self centered approach to servitude by the elected official in general. The gain is sought for a particular interest with no regard toward benefit to the community. An illustration of the health care recent degradation as the insurance provider is given a position of control through providing certain benefits for individual needs.The generation entering the employment stage of existence appears in a euphoric state, assuming the existence of the welfare state is not capable of ending. I am in Columbus, Ohio. Please contact me (614 745-7449) if you visit here. We now have a Casino in a neighborhood that used to have automobile dealerships, various restaurants and customer service sites such as banking, clothing and grocery. The founding push for this development was illustrating the windfall from profits that would be channeled into the state educational system, but those figures are not available at present. Regards, Bill

    Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2014 12:00:36 +0000 To:

  3. Dean,
    I totally agree with this article and can only blame the current circumstances on one thing; corporate greed! To elaborate, I recently heard a commentary made on MSNBC that the events that allowed the family to survive and prosper during the “good” years like the 60’s was an un-intended event that was never supposed to happen. They furthered by stating that prosperity that allowed the male of the household was never supposed to capable of earning a living wage allowing the wife or partner to stay at the home and tend the family! I find these comments totally opposite to the American dream! I come from those days and they were the good years.
    They were times when a parent earned a living wage capable of sustaining the entire family, they could plan for kids education, save money, rely on a pension to retire and had the respect of an employer who rewarded them with a fair wage and good benefits. Business, industry and manufacturing was booming and still had that loyalty to the American people and the nation to supply those factors necessary to live.
    Somewhere along the line business tasted profitability and demanded more at the expense of their employees. this led to more output from fewer employees, massage layoffs, re-locations to countries where wages were ridiculously low by American standards and life style and where they could generate more and more profits they could hoard.
    This phenomenon is evident by simply looking at the data available demonstrating the decline in workers wages, the increase in business profits, and the flight American business to low cost areas for more profits thru cheap labor.
    If in fact the businesses that fled to other lands to manufacturer and produce do begin to relocate back to America and pay a living wage again, you will see this trend begin to gradually reverse again to the upward trends. A Chairman of my Board made a very statement that turned heads at a meeting one by stating that “this organization is not only responsible for assisting in the creation of higher paying employment opportunities in this county but we must also remember that we are also responsible to generate jobs for those at the bottom of the wage ladder as well as those who are at the top of the ladder!”. He was a very wealthy man in both monetary and wisdom in my mind and I have always remember that statement and that advice.
    In other words, should a company who fled this country for lower wages make the move back to this country, they will surely find the labor to fill their needs because we all need to work if they treat their employees with respect and recognition that those same employees also need to have medical, pension and other family needs.
    I sincerely hope that American businesses get off this position of paying as little as possible so I can bank more profits, invest in america again and hire! Assume your role as a capitalist! Make this country great again.

  4. Speaking of Birmingha, AL I awoke this morning to a snow covered Augusta, Georgia. I have not seen this much snow since the infamous winter storm of 1993. I was a younger, single mom of two children, living and working in Birmingham, Alabama. Because of the storm we lost power in my home and the children and I were huddled togtogether, freezing in my bedroom. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. To my disbelief the man that I was dating had flagged down a stranger, and convinced him to make the one hour drive to rescue me and my children. My oldest daughter, now 33, is here with me now as we shared this story with my granddaughter. She talks about how stupid I was to let this man out of my life. I agreed. Heroes are far and few.> wrote: > Dean Barber posted: “It was 1998 when I left the newsroom after a 20-year stint working with daily newspapers. It was a good run. I have no regrets.Newspaper work was probably the hardest work that I ever did, and I truly loved it. My identity was wrapped into what I did like” >

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