This week has been a

by francine Hardaway on September 13, 2002

This week has been a bummer, largely because of the anniversary of 9/11 and a Friday the 13th. It was interesting how many meetings were moved, re-scheduled, or cancelled because no one had any energy on Wednesday. Never mind deciding not to fly, many people seemed to have decided not to get out of bed. Now it’s Friday, and bomb-sniffing dogs are active in Florida detecting terrorists.

When rats are confronted with too many stimuli, they go into operational neurosis. This is a temporary form of paralysis, but it can kill them because they forget to eat. Americans are pretty over-stimulated right now, and many are just burying themselves in their houses and watching 400 satellite channels on their 50-inch TVs. It’s not only 9/11, it’s everything: Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Wall Street, West Nile virus.

On the morning after 9/11, we got to listen to President Bush making a case for the war against Iraq, or as it is euphemistically titled, ‘the regime change.’ That was brilliant timing; any kid who wasn’t scared to death on Wednesday by terrorism would have nightmares Thursday about weapons of mass destruction. Especially since all the adults were busy fighting with each other about whether Bush should declare war or not.

The alternative was to watch the former CEOs of GE, Adelphia, Tyco and Worldcom have their retirement packages confiscated, and the Justice Department dig deeper into the amazing extent of corporate greed. Martha Stewart may have known too much about Imclone when she decided to sell, but Jack Welch’s divorce papers reveal that he negotiated a retirement worthy of a dictator in a developing country.

All this makes me wonder whether the real
‘bubble’ of the past five years was really due to the Internet, or was brought about by something else altogether in the “old” economy. In hindsight, capitalist economy for the past five years has been a sort of creative writing exercise, in which some lucky people got to make up all sorts of stories, circulate them to as many others as possible�using the media as megaphones –, and collect big money for being such good storytellers.

In fact, one of the primary duties of a CEO in the last decade was to be the “outside spokesperson” for his/her company. A whole industry has been built up around media training � readying these spokespeople for anyone who dared question their “messages.” The consultants gave the CEOs “talking points” and “image consulting,” furnished them with multimedia presentations that included displays of themselves on multiple large screens simultaneously, and made damn sure that whenever they opened their mouths they had a “good story.”

All this storytelling responsibility was pretty time-consuming, so it’s no wonder that few of these CEOs knew anything about what was going on inside their companies. Shuttling back and forth from the conferences on Wall Street, at Aspen and Davos, they were rarely in the office to detect the familiar stench of cooking books.

With all the stories around, it’s also no wonder that CEOs convinced themselves and everyone else that they should be compensated at an annual rate exceeding the gross revenues of 90% of American businesses.

But there seems to be very little remaining of the run-up in the ’90s. Not only are the dotcoms gone, but Blue Chip corporations are gone, and their “trusted advisors” are gone with them. I’m not sure 9/11 or the Internet changed everything, but something sure did. Many people are out of work, others are out of retirement savings, and even Alan Greenspan doesn’t seem to be able to impact events.

If Alan is out of tricks, what’s next? America seems to have a few dozen naked emperors � and not because they couldn’t afford to pay their tailors. Perhaps we should make them all pool their former salaries and retirement packages into a Social Security or Medicare fund, so they can take care of all the rest of us. Then we could stay in bed, where we really want to be these days.

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