Sunday, December 03, 2006

If Local Business is Good for the Community, Why Keep Screwing Ourselves Over?

According to Joan Vennochi, Boston is dying; I'm inclined to believe her. However, it isn't just Boston - it's not even just Massachusetts. It's all of America. America is dying from a hard-to-shake cold, which just won't go away because our immune system's weak. We have consumer AIDs: Auspicious Indulging Dementia. We're too preoccupied/busy/stupid/complacent to realize that the very communities we've grown up in are corroding, losing what's beautiful about them - not to mention the well-paying jobs typically lost in the process.

In Vennochi's Sunday column, she rails against the Wang Center becoming the Citi Center.

This week, The Wang Center was rechristened the Citi Performing Arts Center, after Citigroup bought the naming rights for $34 million. There is still a Wang Theatre. But a corporation, not a human being, gets top billing at a performance center that now showcases a version of New York's Rockettes rather than Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" at Christmas.
Of course, the new "Citi Performing Arts Center" isn't an example of jobs being cut or businesses being closed - but it's an important symbol in a city suffering from an identity crisis. And that symbol is just one of many other Boston-based companies being gobbled up in a game of real-life Manopoly.

Local banks merged and were then gobbled up by Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C. The John Hancock name survives mainly as a marketing tool after Manulife of Toronto bought John Hancock Financial Services. The Boston Globe is owned, for now, by the New York Times Co.

When Gillette was eaten up and the Bank of Boston, Bay Bank, etc. all eventually gobbled up by Bank of America, thousands of people lost jobs in Greater Boston. The businesses picked up and left - they don't give a damn what happens in Boston, so long as there isn't a direct and easily detectable consequence to the company.

Why would they care? They don't live here. When there's only a few companies, all centered in lofty halls in some nice local of the country, they're not going to give a damn about what happens in Boston or Greater Boston cities. When companies leave small cities like Lynn and Lowell, those cities die a somewhat unrecoverable death - even if there are some glimmers of hope. Boston is sadly one of the lucky cities (just ask Detroit).


Not too long ago, when the Department of Transportation and other institutions were gutting cities left and right to make new highways and build newer buildings, a lot of people thought that newer was better. In some instances, they were right. However, as national treasures were being bulldozed, people learned there was a better way. While progress is not only great, but inevitable, the past is paramount in society. Heck, students typically spend as much time studying history in our nation's schools as they do math. There needs to be a mutual balance where the axe rarely falls and humanity still progresses.

Yet, the axe no longer comes in the form of a bulldozer demolishing neighborhoods and landmarks to build highways and buildings that will live in infamy. The axe now comes in the form of a name change - Jordan Marsh and Filene's to Macy's, Gillete to Procter and Gamble, the Bank of Boston to Fleet to the Bank of America. Yet, in some ways, that axe is just as deadly: hundreds of thousands of people lose jobs and no one gets better services. Large, city-based companies are gone and philanthropy dries up. Cities die. Just as much history and legacy is lost. And no one but a few stockholders win.

Joan Vennochi asks, at the end of her Op-Ed, if anything is sacred. Here's the answer: sacred is whatever the hell we say it is. If Americans are content to let things go the way they are, nothing's sacred. However, we can and should make changes - so everyone from everywhere gets to enjoy in the fruits of our burgeoning economy, not just the wealthy CEOs, stockholders and execs - who are now hoarding the efforts of the entire American people .

I'd be remiss to blog rant about corporate consolidation and its effects on cities if I weren't to offer a different way. Companies are too large already. Competition's gone down hill and one company after another is eaten up as we role the dice and land on Boardwalk with 3 motels. If something isn't done, soon there will be hotels on Boardwalk and it'll be Game Over for typical Americans (and I'm not even talking about the working poor - they've been bankrupt for decades now). Americans are paying through the teeth - and not only in real dollars. Symbolic dollars are just as important as people lose hope and can't see a vision of recovery. As cities decline and Proctor and Gamble prospers. Joan Vennochi was complaining about the lack of an Enchanted Village during the winter. There's more at stake - America itself.


Laurel said...

Little companies merging into fewer big companies isn't the only problem. My family is being affected by a severe case of asset stripping. This is where a company buys another (often on credit) to get control of some intellectual property, then trashes the remainder of the stripped company. All those employees with all that experience and knowledge? Gone. It is criminal but legal. It happens, in part, because COs are bought off with huge (tens of millions+) payoffs if they facilitate the stripping and disposal of their own companies. A few cronies on the board, and you've got smooth sailing to a gaggingly wealthy retirement. We need Eliott Spitzer in the Whitehouse to kick some filthy capitalist *ss. p.s. the company I'm talking about isnt in MA. MA is not alone in it's problems.

Ryan Adams said...

It's definitately widespread. While some mergers are okay and make sense, we - as a people - have the right to tell companies that no, they can't go and merge 300 companies into one heading. No, they can't buy a company and then strip it - cutting off all the jobs that regions depend on.

Outsourcing jobs to elsewhere has been a big problem, but I'd wager all these mega-mergers creating legal Monopolies is just as bad.

Anonymous said...

How many of you drive foreign made cars?

Ryan Adams said...

The failing of the American Auto industry can't be blamed on the American people. It's GM, Ford and Chrysler's fault for making craptastic cars that break down after 3 years.

What happens when Ford starts to make quality cars (the Fusion, Focus)? PEOPLE BUY THEM.

I own a Honda. It was assembled in America and it's a 2003, which was before any decent American cars were being built. Plus, I didn't buy it and didn't have a choice in the matter. My two previous (craptastic) cars were a Dodge and Chevy... and they both were not only gas-guzzlers, but were niether safe nor ran well. I put more money into fixing them than I did buying them (by far).

The next car I get will probably be a Ford Fusion because... guess what? They look nice, run well and are priced competitively. Ford still needs to work on lowering the fuel mileage (the new Honda Civic is crazy-efficient and can still really zip).

Laurel said...

Anonymous, would you also ask people in other countries not to buy American made cars or other products? Are you for ending foreign trade?

Anonymous said...

What's a foreign made car these days?

Last I checked all the automakers were multinationals. Toyota and VW have plants here, Ford uses Mazda engines, ...

Anonymous said...

You're all right. Capitalism at it's best. Best product at the best price. But now that the out sourcing is hitting the high tech jobs around here, people are getting worried. The key is to invest in the companies that do the stripping, the CEO may grab a lot but some trickles down to us stockholders.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:25, so highway robbery is ok so long as you get a slice? how nice.

Anonymous said...

Competition / highway robbery - tomatoes / tomatos. If a company is well run and defensive it won't be taken over. Where would you draw the line? When it affects your chosen profession. I'm on my fourth job within my company because production has been moved to Brazil, China etc.

Ryan Adams said...

Where do you draw the line? How about allowing companies to buy and split like it effected no one? How about letting one company gob up - literally - hundreds of others. No thanks. Not in my democracy.

People have rights, businesses don't. You only have the rights we give you. There will come a day and time - soon, I bet - where businesses no longer have the right to play God in society, choosing who can eat and who starves.

Anonymous said...

Great idea if you can make it work. Unfortunatly you can't close the barn door after the horse is already out. I now work for a French comglomerate, who came in and scooped up my formerly American company. The sharks are now international and I don't see how you can prevent their involvement. My advice today, invest in a Latin American mutual fund.

Anonymous said...

[ Ryan: Do you know the name of the affiliated investment branch of the former BayBank? They were aggressive and successful. ] Bank of America merger has taken in all the MBNA credit card holders and selectively jumped the interest rates to satisfy their bloodthirsty greed. As a BoA shareholder who unwillingly became a customer via the merger with MBNA, I must say I have misgivings about their behavior on aggressive fee increases.
BoA certainly lost all creditability as a “Harvard Neighbor” with their decision to raise my interest rate.
BoA is aggressively unfriendly and bloodthirsty.
To treat me like dirt is no way to win friends and create long term customers.

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