Invest at home – Infrastructure & Jobs

Bob Herbert of the New York Times gets it. Today’s column makes a forceful case for intense, well planned infrastructure investment as a crucial part of President Obama’s stimulus package.


The Most Important Book in My Library

“The most important book in my library.”  This is how I describe The Anatomy of Power by John Kenneth Galbraith (1983, Houghton Mifflin).  Galbraith describes the forms & sources of power in politics, business, society and relationships (ie, life) in such clear, crisp language that, as one reviewer noted, “you can almost hear this book tick.” I have reread this book several times and often refer to key passages as I try to better understand how power, sometimes exerted by me and often felt from others, is affecting my ideas, projects and relationships in work, community, love and life.

We often think of “power struggles” as complicated and vague. This lack of clarity often makes us feel “powerless.”  In keeping with the surgeon’s metaphor, Galbraith dissects the comples body of power into three distinct forms, Condign power (the threat of punishment), Compensatory power (the promise of reward) and Conditioned power (the ability to change beliefs.) 

The simple beauty of Galbraith’s command of the topic shows as he similarly dissects the sources of power into three distinct and complete sets, namely: Personality, Property and Organization. The Form/Source matrix becomes vivid in your mind as he provides many historic examples of Power to make his point. The book is now 25 years old so a few of his case studies may be unfamiliar but it’s easy to imagine current events in this framework:

  • Obama makes voters believe in him (Conditioned Power) through his Personality and his campaign’s Organization.
  • Russia invades Georgia (Condign Power) and is successful because of it’s better equipped (Property) and better trained (Organization) troops.
  • US home buyers are convinced (Conditioned) that their houses (Property) will always increase in value (Compensatory). However, the markets (Organization) exert their (Condign) power and force people into foreclosure.

You get the point. 

PS: The book is suprisingly out of print but over the years I have purchased several copies to give to colleagues through for $3 to $10 for very clean copies.

The Formerly Middle Class

I promise that this editorial by David Brooks from the New York Times will not cheer you up.  It is a frank assessment of what the longer term effects of the current economic mess may be for many of us.

20 Principles for Centering My Life

In my first post I mentioned Stephen Covey as a writer that is imprtant to me. About a year ago, I reread The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and spent several days creating a personal mission statement as Covey describes in Habit 2, Begin With the End In Mind. It has held up without revision for a year, even as the world has thrown me a few curve balls.  It has proven to be one of the most valuable things I have ever done.

I guess it’s time to put it out there for every one to see and help me to be accountable to it.

20 Principles for Centering My Life

John Fonner

  • My children are the most important people in my life.  Never cause them to doubt this.
  • Raise them to be loving, confident, independent and responsible adults.
  • Be honest in all my dealings with others.
  • Look for reasons to trust people.
  • Treat people with different opinions, culture, experiences, religion, economic status, politics, gender and race with respect.  Be open to new ideas and perspectives.
  • Make a lasting contribution to my community without seeking recognition.
  • Pursue continued spiritual growth through study and contemplation of my relationship with God.  Don’t judge others’ spirituality or faith.
  • Take steps to prolong my healthy life.  Don’t fear death.
  • Make responsible environmental choices.
  • Be generous to friends, family and strangers.
  • Eliminate existing debt and limit future debt to essential assets such as my home, cars and college education.  Save for the future.
  • Be humble in receiving compliments and be open to criticism.
  • Seek help when needed, accept help when offered and offer help to others.
  • Cultivate lasting friendships and be reliable to those that are counting on me.
  • Be curious about the world and wonder about the way things are.
  • Develop my talents, acknowledge my limitations and learn new skills.
  • Be generous with praise, stingy with criticism, quick to smile and slow to anger.
  • Bend down to talk to small children.
  • Appreciate the beauty of well made things.
  • Don’t worry about what the other guy gets.

The ultimate rock & roll song

The look on the faces of the teenage girls near the end of this video says it all.  What was that?!  This was 40 years ago and guitarists are still trying to play like Hendrix! Amazing performance!

Team of Rivals – another Lincoln lesson for Barrack Obama

As President-elect Obama has been considering candidates for his administration’s cabinet secretaries and other key roles, there have been plenty of references to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 bestseller, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The book details Lincoln’s selection of the most talented politicians and leaders he could assemble for his cabinet, many of them his bitter political rivals, in order to lead  the nation in a most difficult period.

Another important insight provided by Ms. Goodwin is Lincoln’s emphasis, early in his career, on “internal improvements” (ie public infrastructure) as a vital means of lifting the country’s workers out of their lives of poverty. The mid-1800s saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution with the construction of great infrastructure projects such as the Trans-Continental Railroad, the great canals in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the invention of the telegraph and the origins of America’s energy reliance on coal and oil. Lincoln’s understanding of infrastructure as an economic catalyst is highlighted in the following excerpt from the book:

Lincoln knew firsthand the deprivations, the marginal livelihood of the subsistence farmer unable to bring produce to market without dependable roads. He had been paid the meager wages of a hired hand. Primitive roads, clogged waterways, lack of rail connections, inadequate schools – such were not merely issues to Lincoln, but hurdles he had worked all his life to overcome in order to earn an ampler share of freedom. These “improvements” to the infrastructure would enable thousands of farming families to emerge from the kind of poverty in which the Lincoln family had been trapped, and would permit new cities and towns to flourish.

Lincoln’s dedication to internal improvements and economic development was given strength, nourishment, and power, so the historian Gabor Boritt persuasively argues, by his passionate commitment “to the ideal that all men should receive a full, good, and ever increasing reward for their labors so they might have the opportunity to rise in life.” Economic development provided the basis, Lincoln said much later, that would allow every American “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.” To Lincoln’s mind, the fundamental test of a democracy was its capacity to “elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear paths of laudable pursuit for all.” A real democracy would be a meritocracy where those born in the lower ranks could rise as far as their natural talents and discipline might take them.

Young Lincoln’s great ambition in the 1830s, he told Joshua Speed, was to be the “DeWitt Clinton of Illinois.” The pioneering New York governor had opened opportunities for all New Yorkers and left a permanent imprint on his state when he persuaded the legislature to support the Erie Canal project. In the Illinois legislature, Lincoln hoped to leave a similar imprint by way of an ambitious program of internal improvements.

Excerpt from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, copyright 2005

Our nation’s infrastructure needs serious repair and improvement if we are going to compete in the 21st Century global economy. An intense, sustained effort to rebuild and improve our existing infrastructure will provide jobs for today’s workers. We must also invest in the infrastructure of new energy sources to replace our dependence on fossil fuels that began in the 19th Century.  This vital and massive effort must be among the top of our national priorities in the new administration.