Human-side economics: Fairness at play

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for capitalizing on a good idea. The person who invented Post-its -— NOT Romy or Michele from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, although Lisa Kudrow‘s character makes a darn compelling case, below, that it could have been anyone — well, that person should profit from his genius and good business sense. (See previous post “Scotch Tape, Post-Its and the stickiest problem yet.”)

Where then does our capitalist system fail? It’s in this concept of one’s “fair share.”

Movies teach us a lot. Take the new all-American baseball biopic Moneyball; and if you haven’t yet seen it, you must.

Spoiler alert: You should probably run see it before finishing reading this post.

Moneyball shows us how Ivy League economics and a few scraps helped turn around a tanking baseball team. Formulas alone, though, wouldn’t work. Brad Pitt, as Billy Beane, had to factor in some human chemistry to help define his success. His decisions weren’t always “winning” ones, but they were the right ones. He rejected a $12.5 million salary, for instance, on the basis he already had what he needed — or he knew the salary wouldn’t help him achieve what he wanted.

As a cog in the news business, I recently earned a 2.49% raise, after a straight record of “superior” performance ratings and two (or was it three?) years of pay freezes, forced furloughs and rising health care costs. You think they could have squeezed out one more hundredth or a percentage for a round 2.5%. Musta been based on some cold calculation to not upset someone else’s chock-full apple cart. No doubt those in the company’s upper echelons still managed six-figure bonuses on top of plump salaries during these lean times.

Is this fair? Of course, the answer is “above my pay grade.”

I’m not complaining, as I am thankful to have a job. But it seems to me the problem with our system is we get saturated at the top, with very little trickle-down action.

I’m not saying the people at the top are all villains — they were human once, too, ha. And those “bean-counters” in the Oakland A’s front office with Billy Beane merely were saturated, stuck in their ways. They lacked the vision and drive he had. You gotta be a little hungry for that kinda magic.

I never set out this morning to write about this sticky wicket, or Scotch Tape or Post-its. I merely looked up the year 1925 doing other research and found what I thought was an interesting story about men with ideas — the human story behind economics.

Although I don’t advocate the Saudi way of doing things, it’s interesting how Saudi Arabia spreads its oil wealth among its citizens. Not unlike Alaska. If every businessman and -woman made decisions based on the human element, or at least evaluated things on the basis of what role his/her product and business plays in people’s lives, always remembering where s/he came from, and the legitimacy of those who work and those who COULD work for them, maybe more of us could benefit — not to the point of saturation, but at least on the cusp of fulfillment, with evenly distributed pangs of hunger driving our economy.

In other words, the perfect capitalist system would work better applied imperfectly, with some take-and-give.


Scotch Tape, Post-its and the stickiest problem yet

English: Antique Scotch Tape package. Exact er...

English: Antique Scotch Tape package. Exact era unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the early 1920s, 3M made only sandpaper. Yet a banjo-playing lab assistant, Richard Drew, trying to solve a problem for autobody workers who couldn’t apply paint in clean lines on refurbished cars, came up with an early version of masking tape.

When the adhesive didn’t stick well enough, a painter allegedly complained: “Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!”

Thus, when Drew invented properly sticky waterproof tape in 1930, it was dubbed “Scotch” Tape. Had nothing to do with drinking himself into posterity.

A half-century later, 3M employee Arthur Fry borrowed a “low-tack” adhesive developed by colleague Spencer Silver and some spare, unpopularly bland yellow paper from a local printshop to mark his place in his hymnbook.

The resulting Post-it gave birth to a ubiquitous line of products that has made the leap from paper to digital, with “sticky notes” being a common feature in word-processing and blogging.

This kind of innovation seems truly American. Unfortunately, our top technological companies are renouncing their citizenship to avoid paying corporate taxes by express-shipping $1.2 trillion in corporate profits overseas, in such tax havens as Zug, Switzerland, and Dublin, where the corporate tax rate is about 16% and 12.5%, respectively, compared with the United States’ 35% rate.

Scotch bosses? Try Irish bosses.

Doing the math, it seems $1.2 trillion could help patch our debt problem. Recessed American innovation is being stifled by a dominant American trait: greed.

Note to 3M: You are due for another groundbreaking innovation.

If you didn’t see this 60 Minutes installment last March, you should. It sticks with you.

(A bitter pill: You must suffer through one 1-minute pharmaceutical ad to watch the whole thing.);storyMediaBox

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