Leaderless survival

Posted Nov. 11, 2011, at 6:48 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 12, 2011, at 3:33 a.m.

Franklin Roosevelt assured the country there was nothing to fear but fear itself. Ronald Reagan urged us to stay the course. Bill Clinton found hope in pop culture and Fleetwood Mac, serving up inspiration with a song: “Don’t stop, thinking about tomorrow.”

Who’s inspiring us now? Where’s the leader who calms and encourages a frightened and weary people to be confident and hopeful?

Barack Obama? The brilliant orator of the 2008 presidential campaign whose speeches caused liberal commentators’ spines to tingle with excitement? What words of inspiration does the president offer the country as Americans wrestle with a stalled economy and stubborn unemployment? …

But the Republicans are no better. In Congress, the Grand Old Party evidently believes the only thing there is to fear is saying yes to a piece of legislation that might benefit the economy or the people suffering from its stagnancy. Their definition of staying the course is doing nothing and waiting for problems to solve themselves.

Never mind the search for inspirational leadership. The country would be grateful for any leadership at all.

It’s almost enough to make us fear more than fear itself, to doubt our ability to stay the course, to stop thinking about tomorrow. Almost, but not quite.

America remains the greatest nation on Earth and Americans remain the most determined and resilient people on the planet. We will survive and we will thrive, without or without a leader to inspire us.

The Morning Sentinel, Waterville, Maine (Nov. 10)

It is as near a bedrock truth as we have that most Americans build assets in their lifetime despite cyclical swings in the economy. Careers start small and end bigger, or at least higher-paying. Houses are purchased and mortgages are paid off over decades as equity soars — creating a happy multiplication of wealth. Meanwhile, children are sent into the world with similar expectations.

But the first sign that this truth could be seriously shaken over the long term comes in the form of an analysis showing households headed by adults age 65 or older possessed net worth 47 times greater than households headed by adults under the age of 35 — more than double the gap of six years ago and five times greater than 25 years ago.

There is little question the stalled economy, while hard on most everyone, has seriously punished the young. They take on more college debt than ever, scramble for fewer jobs and pay mortgages on homes purchased in the years immediately preceding the housing bust and whose values have plummeted since. But the downturn only widens a gap occurring over decades, Pew Research Center investigators found after mining data from the U.S. Census Bureau and elsewhere.

The findings are disturbing. They test the durability — or is it illusion — of the American dream.

The Oregonian, Portland (Nov. 10)

Food for thought for banks

What’s $5 a month to Bank of America? The money clearly meant more to the financial giant’s debit-card holders, because they fought harder for it.

After enduring anger, ridicule and, yes, political attacks for weeks over its proposed debit-card fee, the Charlotte-based bank relented.

The little people won — and big businesses everywhere should ask themselves why.

It’s not unusual for businesses to raise prices or add fees. Often, they have compelling reasons. A common cause is higher costs of their own. If they’re paying out more money, they need to increase their revenue. An unattractive alternative is to cut costs by trimming payroll.

In this case, banks stand to lose billions of dollars, analysts say, because of new financial regulations that cap the “swipe fees” merchants pay the banks when customers use debit cards. Consumers already pay that fee through higher prices; Bank of America was asking them to pay it directly.

Bad idea. Banks have an image problem just now, especially those that received huge government bailouts after making very bad business decisions (Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch comes to mind), while continuing to pay huge salaries to top executives. So customers weren’t willing to hand over even $5 a month for the privilege of spending the money they deposited in the bank.

News & Record of Greensboro (Nov. 10)

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