September 1, 2014

A Time for Action

“Dogs don't bark at parked cars”

At the summer meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Committee of 100, talk turned inevitably to leadership and action. One of the keynote speakers, a former Cabinet secretary, sharply shifted the energy in the room with a blunt observation: “Dogs don’t bark at parked cars.” 


The point, of course, was that leadership is about action, engagement and moving forward. It is not about coasting, or sitting still and accepting the status quo.

I talk with a lot of business executives around the country and at times it seems there is a resignation setting in. We have been in this sluggish recovery for so long that I hear murmurs of a dangerous kind of acceptance: talk that this may be the inevitable “new normal,” or that we need to suck it up and get used to the notion that “good enough” is good enough.

For me, not a chance. This country has always thrived on the idea that our children and grandchildren will have better lives than we do. It was fueled by the belief that we can solve the problems facing us by working together. We cannot abandon this country to the political extremists on the left and right; such radicalism will only destroy the vibrant economy and healthy political system that we believe in. I refuse to accept the notion that my kids’ generation is going to be worse off than mine. Mediocrity—“good enough is good enough”—must not become the new normal. We have never accepted that in the past. Why now? We need to hear those dogs barking.

Now is the time for action as the midterm election season swings into high gear. As leaders, we must step up and stir things up. MSCI’s Get Out The Vote campaign and similar initiatives in the business community are critical efforts to identify and elect better-educated, more civic-minded people to our federal, state and local legislative bodies in November.

The men and women in Washington who are supposed to be forging policy and laws to accelerate the recovery have instead turned America into a parked car. We cannot tolerate that any longer.

If manufacturing is going to recover smartly, if the nation is going to start putting its citizens back to work in jobs that pay well and expand the economy, we cannot sit by and wait for others to do our work. We can’t afford to accept 2 to 2.5% GDP growth, for example, as any kind of “new normal”—when actually, it’s a harbinger of stagnation and decline.

We do not endorse candidates at MSCI. But we do endorse policies that will get this country moving again: tax reform, immigration reform and crucial infrastructure investment, all designed to create jobs and a vibrant economy. We endorse efforts by the private sector to work with the public sector to ensure that sensible policy drives politics.

Sometimes, it seems the easiest thing to do is nothing. The cynics smile feebly and dismiss our political system as terminally infected with big money from the left and right. Don’t buy it. This is the message of the self-satisfied, of the powers that have brought us to this state, of the political forces that want nothing to change.

We, on the other hand, must become steadily more engaged with the folks we elect in November. We must build our own political muscle and influence with those who purport to govern us. This is the only way I know that has any hope of getting the political system fixed, of getting the country’s economic engine back in high gear. It is the only way I know to get the dogs barking once again.