Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Money Matters

I find myself rather unhappy with Donald Trump today.

Not personally. I don't know him personally, and as a person, he seems to have enough decent qualities, that I might like him. But he's pushing a lot of people further down the road of class warfare and financial ignorance. He's doing that by filing Bankruptcy - again.

I actually have no idea how many times 'The Donald' has filed for the big eggshell. I could find out if I wanted, but it really doesn't matter. The problem is, even though Trump is filing for Bankruptcy, he still owns - shoot, he's cultivating it - an air of solvency and financial power. That's a trick, but a dirty one. It's mixing the idea that Trump is a business leader we should emulate, with the fact that he has no intention of paying legitimate debts he's incurred. He is basically telling America that cheating is not only acceptable, it's the smart thing to do. He's the star of "The Apprentice", a show about business acumen and ethics and metods, and he's living a life of a well-heeled scam artist. It says something, something rather offensive, about NBC, that Trump is still connected to the show in any, except as an object lesson on Fraud.

But Trump's little courtroom tactics are part of the fabric of American Business, wheer people are sold the illusion in place of the real virtues, where the quick trick is prized above earning and keeping trust. It's why Dan Rather believed he could slip forged documents past the nation on prime-time Television, it's why John Kerry thought he could get elected without a single serious explanation of his Senate record, it's why Americans could be told that freeing millions of people was evil, and why Americans are told that our very economic success is wrong and must stop. Many Americans, believe it or not, do not understand Money or any of the basic forces of Economics. And that lesson comes hard.

First, Employment. Thousands of Bush haters took to protests in 2004, blaming President Bush for the "poor" job market. Leave aside for a moment the limitations on what, precisely, any President can do to create jobs, and also leave aside the fact that Unemployment numbers in 2004 were almost exactly the same numbers that the press praised Bill Clinto for in 1996, and leave aside the fact that average wages continued to rise all year long; the sheer notion that anyone "owed" someone a job, illustrates an appalling lack of common sense and work ethic. Demographics show that prior to 1850, most Americans owned their own businesses, farms for the most part. The good news to owning your own business, is that you take your own profits - a hired man was considered to be on the low end of things, because he could only earn what his boss agreed to pay him. The bad news to owning your own business, was that you took on all the risks of having your own business. If you hit a really bad stretch, you could lose everything ("Lose the Farm" was well-understood when folks had real family farms on the line).

After 1850, and especially after the Civil War, things changed, with many Americans working in factories and for employers. Once the paycheck became the normal way of things, people started planning by that regular pay, relatively small but relatively steady. But even back in the "good old days", people understood that a job might not last forever. College was important, because it allowed a person to take a job with better pay, better security (less "projects" and more likely to be hired as part of a permanent team), and better chances for advancement. Unfortunately, there came a flood of college degrees, some quite accomplished, others frankly useless, and in any case the work environment has shifted again, to the point that people are finally coming back around to the basic question they should have addressed at the start; what is a good employer-employee match?

I have seen a great many job-search sites spring up, and precious few people get anything they would call a "good" job from them. Employers are even less enthused, since these sites flood them with applications from unqualified people, and even with sorting software, it remains just as hard to find that one truly-qualified employee, as it ever was. The problem, to be blunt, is the nature of jobs and workers. People want great positions, but if a job pays well, is fulfilling, and has a great future, the people in those positions are not going to want to elave those jobs. As a result, most jobs available pay less, are less secure, less rewarding, and/or are more difficult and demanding. Not that employers have a great time. These days, even after you screen for drugs and criminal histories, you could easily get someone who looks good on paper and interviews well, but who is lazy, or rude, or uncooperative, or any other combination of production-killing attributes. Most managers have antacids close at hand for very good reasons.

For some reason, people have forgotten to remind kids of one very important reason to do their homework: They'll need to use those homework study and research skills all the rest of their life, from finding the right job, to how they invest, to how they plan their major life events. Living your lifeunplanned can be exciting, true - but so can driving your car with your eyes closed, but the end results are likely to be messy in either case.

The simple fact is, people should be careful to think ahead, about what skills their "dream job" will need, and what they will need to do, to get that chance. And if they plan to work for someone else, they will have to decide when and if they want to set out on their own, or else accept the trade-off of a comfort zone for the chance to excel.

Next: Self-Employment?


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