Carlos Rymer

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Could Mitt Romney Really Be A Free Enterprise President?

The 2012 Presidential race is on in the U.S., and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, has escalated his attacks on President Barack Obama, claiming that the President has undermined free enterprise and expanded the role of government in the life of every U.S. citizen over the last three and a half years. According to Romney, the U.S. economy needs a leader who will put in place policies that encourage free enterprise in order to grow faster and put people back to work. The problem with this is that Mitt Romney is misleading people into believing that he will support all free enterprises, while the reality is that, like his party, he will focus aggressively on supporting existing free enterprises that have gamed U.S. democracy and undermined free markets.

To understand why Mitt Romney’s message may sound good in theory, it’s important to understand the difference between the theoretical U.S. economic model and the economic model actually in place. While it’s largely assumed that capitalism, a model under which competition among private enterprises maximizes wealth creation, is in full practice in the U.S., it turns out that the reality is very different.

Under completely free markets, private enterprises compete to generate the best products and services at the lowest possible costs. Competition keeps private enterprises from controlling the market and therefore dictating prices. In theory, this actually does lead to greater economic benefits, and there are countries where, in practice, this actually takes place to a significant degree. In the U.S., the economic model in place is actually one where special interests have gamed politics to the point where government has been significantly influenced to protect specific corporate interests, ranging from food & drinks to minerals to energy to pharmaceuticals. This economic model based on corporate power, big corporate players work hand in hand with the government to prevent free enterprises from competing against them. This is why corporations like Exxon, which seems to earn record profits every single year, still receives government subsidies. It is also why other countries with less entrepreneurial and technological capacity are now beating the U.S. in clean energy as its government refuses to provide the same level of support it provides to fossil fuels.

Corporate power is dangerous not only because it discourages free enterprise, but because it undermines democracy by creating the illusion that government intervention in regulating any market is against free enterprise, even when it is to discourage oligopolies and to encourage entry to market by new enterprises. And this is exactly the illusion that Mitt Romney is betting on, telling U.S. voters that his policies will encourage free enterprises to create jobs and spur faster economic growth. In the coming months, Mitt Romney will raise hundreds of millions of dollars from special interests, including Super PACs supported by the likes of the Koch Brothers, to tell U.S. voters that he will be different from the incumbent because he will weed out government intervention in markets to allow free enterprises to thrive. It is misleading and wrong.

The reality is that in the last three and a half years, new enterprises have been getting a better shot at making it than in the eight years that came before the President was elected. The vast majority of jobs are being created in more competitive markets where enterprises don’t largely control the market they are in. What’s more, the President has prudently used government to do its rightful job, which is to intervene where free markets fail and where markets incur high social and environmental costs not reflected in market prices. The President has fought against insurers and pharmaceuticals to ensure prices don’t keep rampantly growing (which they shouldn’t in a truly free market), has worked hard to ensure that enterprises don’t create more problems than the benefits they provide, and has given tax incentives to small businesses that create the vast majority of jobs, not big enterprises that create relatively fewer jobs per unit of output.

Mitt Romney’s campaign will spend hundreds of millions of dollars claiming he’s for free enterprise, but if he’s elected, he will support the same kind of enterprises that will help him win the White House: those that have for many years undermined democracy by abusing corporate spending power to buy elected officials. If U.S. voters really want to encourage more free enterprise, they should know that the President has cut taxes for small businesses several times, reduced corporate abuses in the health and financial markets, helped bring back the Auto industry, and directed government agencies to implement a host of recommendations made by the business community to encourage free enterprise. It’s no coincidence that after the greatest recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. economy has come back largely because employers have added jobs even as the government is shedding them. Mitt Romney’s theory of helping some free enterprises wouldn’t have led to the kind of recovery the U.S. is experiencing. It would have led to the same hole we are just coming out of.

So, to answer the question, yes Mitt Romney could be a free enterprise president. But the free enterprises he would be supportive of already exist, and they’re huge, dangerous, and deceitful. We need a President who’s supportive of all enterprises, not just those who have bought Washington to keep control of the markets.

Why Leaders Ought to Communicate Frequently

Frequent CommunicationOne of the most difficult tasks for any leader — whether of a large organization or a small group — is to communicate frequently and effectively. Communication is not just important because it helps shape debates that lead to important decisions being made, but also because organizations need a sense of direction to keep the engine going. Leaders who don’t communicate frequently and effectively probably outnumber those who do. This is very noticeable when you take entire societies as an organized group, where the people are typically in constant distrust of their leaders because such leaders fail to communicate frequently and effectively.

Over the past two years, the importance of constant and effective communication has become so noticeable to me as I’ve witnessed different leaders employ very different strategies to communicate to the public. I want to focus exclusively on two very good government leaders to whom I can relate and whom I believe have very different strategies of engaging with those whom they represent. While I strongly believe frequent and effective communication is important for any leader, whether at the corporate, civic, or governmental level, I chose to compare two government leaders because of the impact their strategies have in shaping a nation.

The first leader, if you already guessed correctly, is President Barack Obama of the United States. Aside from having a highly successful electoral campaign in which records were set in terms of engagement, President Obama has made it a priority for his administration to communicate frequently and effectively to the public. Not only is he in constant communication with the public — from constant appearances on TV to town halls to news conferences to videotaped weekly addresses to Twitter updates — but his entire cabinet is fully engaged with the public through social media, conferences, and public appearances. It is arguable that this has been the most engaging administration in U.S. history, in spite of the anger some may feel regarding agenda items that have yet to be accomplished.

The Obama administration’s frequent and effective communication has not just helped achieve the most productive legislative Congress in many years, but has also helped rally a nation into debating issues previous administrations largely ignored. Although I feel some anger at the fact that the President has consistently taken a centrist approach towards many issues when they fully deserve and warrant a more aggressive approach, I admire how President Obama has used messaging — messaging that a majority of people can appreciate and understand — as a tool to achieve key goals. While words don’t necessarily translate into deeds, I think many people can agree that President Obama’s frequent and effective communication has helped his administration achieve quite a lot over the past two years.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, we have President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, my country of origin. Here we have a leader who not only understands how to keep an economy growing and is very capable of designing effective policies, but who has been elected three times in the last 15 years (1996, 2004, and 2008). While a majority of Dominicans agree that President Fernandez is one of the best leaders the country has witnessed, a majority of them will also say that they disagree with the way President Fernandez is handling the government. A sweeping 2010 election where the majority party (Partido de la Liberacion Dominicana) took almost full control of government can be used as evidence of the President’s popularity, but it doesn’t deny the fact that most Dominicans disapprove of President Fernandez, precisely a result of how infrequently and ineffectively he communicates to the people about issues that matter to them.

Unlike President Obama, President Fernandez only speaks to the public on rare occasions, such as for his annual address to Congress or updates on emergency actions. As a result, the people don’t feel like they need to follow their leader to get a sense of direction of where the country is going and what they should strive to accomplish. When President Fernandez does speak directly to the public, he does so in such language that people do not understand or feel interested in what he’s talking about, often focusing on statistics rather than telling a story to which people can relate. Not only is this a bad way to negatively impact what is in fact good leadership, but it’s also a waste of power, as President Fernandez squanders all the opportunities he has to get people to think and behave in ways that could help his nation race for a better future.

Good leadership is not just based on how well you can manage a team, but also on how well you can communicate to that team so it knows what it must do to accomplish its goals. All too often leaders fail to understand how valuable a position they’re in, where they can easily grab an audience’s attention and shape a debate, a decision, a common cultural problem, or even behavior. Clearly, some leaders tend to achieve goals from the top down regardless of who is alienated at the bottom or in the middle. Yet oftentimes it is better to achieve goals by having all people on board the ship rowing forward. Leaders who want to become better at what they do should understand the importance of frequent and effective communication if they want to add further momentum to their organization’s engine.

“Unworkable” Climate Treaty Not An Option

With all the news about President Obama’s deal to reduce this year’s federal budget by $38 billion and his proposal to reduce total deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years, it is easy to bypass the Administration’s promise to finally act boldly on climate change and help the U.S. unleash a wave of innovation in clean energy, smarter transportation, and energy efficiency. The budget deal alone signals that the U.S. will reduce its investments in clean energy, high-speed rail, and energy efficiency at a time when countries like China and Germany are moving ahead at full speed to capture a market that will be worth trillions of dollars in the next several years.

Today, the Obama Administration’s commitment became even clearer when Todd Stern, the Administration’s climate envoy to the United Nations climate negotiations, declared that a climate treaty was “unworkable.” In Stern’s own words, “it’s [not] necessary that there be [an] internationally binding emission caps as long as you’ve got national laws and regulations. What I am saying is it’s not doable.” In effect, Stern is stating the Obama Administration’s position is that to move forward on climate change, countries will have to simply do whatever they can on their own. This clearly shows the level of urgency the Obama administration has placed on climate change, basically declaring that solving climate change is a luxury rather than a real global emergency similar to nuclear proliferation.

If it were true that we could solve climate change and avoid the trillions in costs it will bring by the end of the century by simply allowing countries to draw up their own plans (by the way, this is not very different from what the Bush administration proposed in their “voluntary scheme”), then it would also be true that we did not need the New START or any other non-proliferation treaties because countries could draw up their own plans voluntarily and address the issue the best way they could (regardless of how long it would take them or how much they could do).

This approach is well-known to be a recipe for failure, and if as a society we believe that risking failure to act boldly on climate change is an acceptable result, then we are accepting endangering future generations’ livelihoods and creating conditions that will be catastrophically damaging to the global environment and economy. I agree that circumstance is causing the Obama administration to put a lot of important issues aside, but how can anybody who understands climate change agree that a President who has so frequently called for bold action now sends his climate envoy to negotiations saying that a treaty is not and will not be possible?

If Obama was really committed, he would come out and set the record straight to let the world know that a treaty is not only still possible, but that it is in fact a requirement to ensuring that we will not give future generations a planet that is so damaged that it can no longer support productive economies. What we saw today from Todd Stern is just another sign that Obama is now less willing to stand strongly for anything, much less employ his political capital to get things done. I hope the President knows what he’s doing and won’t end up being ashamed of not acting when he could years down the road.

Can Obama Succeed On Clean Energy?

Today, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, joined by a strong coalition of business groups and NGOs, unveiled “comprehensive” climate change and clean energy legislation and emphasized their confidence in getting it passed during the current Congress. Immediately afterwards, President Obama applauded the Senators for introducing legislation that would spur clean energy innovation and ensure the U.S. meets its climate change pledge to the international community under the Copenhagen Accord. Regardless of how anybody may feel about this (i.e. too late, too weak), it is a major milestone. We’ve marked off the checklist for everything that needs to be done to pass a climate bill, except getting the Senate to pass one. Now, it is up to President Obama to fight hard to get climate change and clean energy legislation passed. Can he do it?

Ever since he signed health care legislation over a month ago, President Obama has been wavering among a host of issues ranging from climate change legislation to wall street reform to nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, he hasn’t decided to choose or two of these priorities and go with them as aggressively as he did with health care reform. What’s worse, he’s failing to live up to one of his core principles he repeatedly mentioned throughout his campaign for health care reform, and that is that his choice to act wouldn’t be influenced by “politics or the polls,” but instead by what “is the right thing to do.” With the upcoming Congressional elections, it seems that President Obama is being influenced more by the polls than “the right thing to do” as he has chosen not to fight aggressively for anything. A great example is his rather short period of campaigning for wall street reform, which lasted a couple of weeks to be left to Congress again.

If President Obama wants to succeed on climate change and clean energy legislation, he will have to push it as hard as he pushed health care reform. So far, President Obama hasn’t dedicated any town hall meetings or domestic visits to climate change and clean energy legislation. He’s only spoken about it during a few times during his weekly addresses and when he announced lifting the ban on offshore drilling in many areas. A quick search through the White House website for health care yields 616 entries as of today, while for energy and the environment there are 64 (that’s roughly 10%). Clearly, if President Obama wants to succeed on climate change and clean energy legislation, he’ll have to campaign more aggressively for it to tip the political balance towards getting the necessary votes in the Senate to pass the strongest bill possible.

Furthermore, he will have to come up with the kind of language that will resonate with people across the country. When he campaigned for health care reform, he spoke of insurance industry abuses, unreasonable premium hikes, and a ballooning federal deficit, all of which were key messages that resonated with people across the country. However, when President Obama speaks of climate change and clean energy, he talks about innovation, leadership, and job creation, failing to emphasize the loss of jobs to other countries, the impacts of floods, droughts, and rising temperatures that are not uncommon across the country, and the damage that fossil fuels incur on the environment, health, and the pockets of U.S. citizens. It is  important to emphasize how climate change and clean energy legislation will spur new industries and create new jobs, but it is also important to emphasize how action will benefit citizens directly, just as he did with health care.

This is perhaps the best time to get it right. The BP oil spill and the coal mine disasters have exemplified our need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels altogether, while our continued loss of clean energy manufacturing jobs to other countries will continue to make it harder to fight the high unemployment rate. We all witnessed how President Obama mustered public support to pressure Congress to act on health care. There is no doubt it can happen again for climate change and clean energy legislation, but it will require President Obama to “do the right thing,” step up to the plate, and campaign aggressively for legislation before campaigning for the Congressional elections erases all chances to get anything done this year. This one is just as up to the Senate as it is to President Obama.

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