The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- Internecine warfare -- it's the approach American and European governments have chosen to solve the simple problem of expenses exceeding revenue. It's like the developed world has gone to hell in a hand basket.
At the first indications of diminished revenue, three years ago, America's private sector cut expenses to align with the new forecast realities for revenue. Realigning expenses and revenue is a routine business process and a rewarding one. A sense of power springs from healthy financials and a pile of cash waiting for the right opportunity.
America's government leaders, on the other hand, don't have that powerful feeling, like the Chinese do. That's because America's leaders are sitting on a pile of debt and can't find the courage to align spending with the now ancient-news of economic realities. Their performance has been pathetic. Even more pathetic are the political leaders who have done nothing to remedy the imbalances and now eye the coffers of the virtuous economic stewards in the private sector. Great idea. Let's make the private sector powerless too. The private sector in the U.S. probably feels like Germany in Europe.
U.S. political leaders have also been throwing stones at the private sector for venturing into emerging markets when they want them investing and creating jobs at home. How hard is it for these leaders to get that America's business leaders have one master: the shareholders. And they have one objective: maximizing shareholder value. It's not stakeholder value, the community or the workers, like it is in some countries. It's the shareholders and it's not some of the time, it's all of the time. Look at the record profits and upbeat forecasts coming from America's businesses. The private sector understands what is expected from them.
In many countries, workers are protected which hinders business flexibility and their ability to continuously maximize wealth. Not in the U.S. When employees stop performing, product lines age, markets saturate, adios -- no sense pouring good money after bad.
In the U.S., bankruptcy offers a fresh start for entrepreneurs to utilize their valuable learning experiences in what not to do. In many countries, bankruptcy is either not an option, it's a very painful one, or it's one that brings disgrace. Instead of offering a fresh start option, money sucking zombies can be created, like those that populate Japanese industry.
Business flexibility in America is one reason why economists in 2008 forecast that the first place profits would return was in America.
To many outside the U.S. and even some inside, the measures American businesses take to maximize shareholder value seem cold-hearted to their employees and communities. What these detractors may not understand is that American employees know that American employers hold an unstated ever-present contest where the winner gets to keep his/her job. Cold hearted? No it's American culture and it's just one reason why America's private sector is so productive.
Maximizing shareholder value has been driving American businesses into setting up foreign operations in emerging markets. Growth is far more attractive than in the U.S. and other traditional trading partners, like those in Europe. It might have been easier to serve these markets by exporting which would have the benefit of creating jobs in the U.S. rather than abroad, but U.S. political leaders hold anachronistic views of trade that jive with their labor constituents. Because of this they have been unable to find the courage to sign off on free trade agreements that would give American exporters an advantage, open up emerging market opportunities to smaller businesses, and be a net producer of jobs.
There is no doubt that uncertainty looms large in the emerging markets, but uncertainty in America is waiting for November for possible clarity. Besides, the expected rewards in emerging markets can be three and four times higher, which can accommodate a lot of extra risk.
Emerging markets can be attractive to America's private sector for another reason. Americans are the fiercest competitors in the world. There is an expression in the U.S.: the only good loser is a loser. Across the globe, American competitiveness is feared. Americans know how to win, they'll work around the clock to win, and they'll take risks that others find culturally loathsome.
Maximizing shareholder value also drives private sector innovation. Continuous innovation is a surefire recipe for making value maximization a long-term reality. No one does innovation better than America where individual contributors are justly rewarded. In many countries individuals are show offs and trained to be communal where they are encouraged to tow the line rather than innovating a better line.
Emerging markets are placing a welcome mat in front of America's cash-rich innovators in the hopes of trading access to their growing markets for a chance to learn from the masters of innovation. There are risks aplenty, but American businesses know how to objectively evaluate the relative risks and rewards of any opportunity.
Maximizing shareholder value is also the driver behind fast responses from America's private sector to regulatory changes. When the new health care initiative was passed, businesses faced with uncertain costs, immediately tightened expense management. When they knew the new costs they scaled back, often kyboshing planned new hires. When the government halved debit card bank fees, banks scaled back and restructured pronto. When the government gummed up the system with new regulations, the private sector feasted their eyes abroad.
Only a private sector operating in a free-market capitalistic, transparent, commerce friendly regulatory environment, like America's, could instantly respond to any actions that government leaders take to hinder wealth creation. The problem with this is that government leaders are supposed to support wealth creation in America, not overseas, so that its private sector can pay down U.S. government debt and support rising expenses.
Oh well. At least shareholders can take comfort that while the public sector is damning the economy, the private sector is staying focused on its sole objective -- maximizing shareholder value. Three cheers for the private sector and a Bronx cheer for the public sector.
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