Tuesday, October 15, 2013

U.S. Shutdown: Ambulance Chasing by the Well-Connected

NYC Ambulance/by Eyeone Wikimedia Commons
While the insane U.S. government shutdown is still ongoing, and pundits, journalists, citizens, investors, and Wall Street are concerned what will happen to the economy if no agreement is reached by coming Thursday, I'm reminded of a time when I was involved with ambulance chasing. What do I mean? Years ago, I had joined a new business, in a new office and new environment, where after a while I found out our business was based on chasing deals. Rather than coming up with a longterm strategy on how we could truly build and expand our business, we were following the media, newspapers and online news.  As soon as we saw a business transaction mentioned with one of our customers involved, we would contact the customer and try to become part of the transaction. I was not impressed and when I talked to a colleague of mine, he explained that this is what they called 'ambulance chasing", which at that time was a new term to me.  According to Wikipedia, ambulance chasing "refers to a lawyer using an event as a way to find legal clients. The term ambulance chasing comes from the stereotype of lawyers that follow ambulances to the emergency room to find clients."

Well, that's what we did then in my office - even though we were not a law firm - and what bothered me was that it gave us all the impression that we were very productive - because we were so busy - and that we were doing something useful - which I wasn't sure about - and that we were expanding our business towards an increasingly successful future - which I strongly doubted -.

What I see now, especially in the U.S.shutdown debate - also to a lesser extent in other Western countries- is that

politicians and policy makers are equally busy with chasing ambulances. Although worse so as the ambulances they chase are on their way to accidents caused by themselves. While  these politicians may truly believe they are productive, doing something useful, and safeguarding the future, the reality is quite different. Until this shut-down started, the same pundits, journalists, citizens, investors and Wall Street were talking about the supposed green shoots of an economic recovery. Even that is doubtful: sure the financial markets have been showing new highs, and, yes, multinationals have been showing increased profits.  Unemployment numbers, however, have been meager at best, lately with 7.3% the lowest in four years but the number of people not in the workforce in August rose to 90.47 million, from 89.95 million in July. These are just two statistics that show that things are not well in the U.S. and that a supposed recovery is at best only happening within a certain segment of society. What is the value of an economic recovery, if more people are without work, more people are using food stamps, education and healthcare become unaffordable and the infrastructure of a country is crumbling? It's like saying that the operation succeeded, but the patient died.

Bottom line is that too many U.S. policymakers are keeping themselves very busy with solving problems they caused themselves, and not doing something useful such as handling the real problems of how to get this economy to work for people - and not just corporations and insiders - let alone deal with long-term challenges such as the future of work or ensuring clean air and a stable climate. It seems that's too much to expect from this crowd of policy makers and politicians, and their sycophants in the media and on Wall Street. Apparently, they believe that chasing ambulances is a better way of spending their time, than making sure that no accidents happen let alone improving people's lives and health.  How much longer will the people accept this ambulance chasing paid for by them and against their own interests by their "elected" representatives?

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