Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's the publicity, stupid - why any economic stimulus package will target big business

You probably haven't heard the story of the U.S. firm that decimated nearly FIFTY PERCENT of its workforce by a combination of actions:

  • The outright layoff of full-time workers.

  • The outright layoff of part-time workers.

  • The reduction of full-time workers to part-time status.
There are three reasons why you haven't heard the story of this U.S. firm.

First, this U.S. firm is not a publicly traded company, and thus does not fall under SEC disclosure regulations. (If Steve Jobs headed this firm, you'd know less about his health than you do now. This may or may not be a good thing.)

Second, this U.S. firm is actually a non-profit. As far as public perception is concerned, non-profits don't do real work, so when economic devastation hits them it doesn't count.

Third, and most importantly, this U.S. firm is very small, probably no more than a dozen employees. Thus the devastating losses to this firm are easily discounted in the mind, since I'm only talking about a few employees here. And because this firm doesn't have a high-powered marketing department, no one is hearing its story.

So bear this in mind when you think about the carnage of the last few days. The New York Times story that documents the layoffs of 75,000 people at Home Depot, Caterpillar, Sprint Nextel, "and at least eight other companies" was good, as far as it went. But even the Times didn't bother to name eight of the large companies impacted by the layoffs. And New York Times reporter Catherine Rampell, as good of a reporter as she is, doesn't have the...um...time to document the complete total of economic devastation.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. General Motors and Chrysler can send their chiefs to Capitol Hill. Even if the head of this non-profit could afford the trip to Washington, the only way that head could get to Capitol Hill would be to join one of the tours for the public. Even Feinstein and Boxer can't get this non-profit head into a hearing.

And it's not just a Democratic thing to satisfy the unions. The Republicans also are only going to listen to the heads of large organizations - organizations whose job losses (and, truth be told, political contributions) are easy to quantify.

So bear in mind that the words being spoken on Capitol Hill and the White House are only part of the story. Save for some numbers that will appear in statistical reports after the fact, the true picture of our economic meltdown is invisible from within the Beltway.

But perhaps we can see it in the world around us.

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