Proud to be American,

reason 9.b.ii:  We selflessly share our highest values with unfortunate people around the world and improve the cultures we engage with.

Today, let us reflect on two of those values, namely “more stuff cheap”  [Amen], and “business as a moral calling” “highest standards of honesty and transparency” , um, wait a minute, “if no-one’s not many people have been indicted convicted yet, nothing has actually happened; keep moving and go shopping”.

Yeah, that’s the one.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

14 thoughts on “Proud to be American,”

  1. I was wondering why it was that Consumer Reports found its toilet paper to be top-rated: when you’re up to your upper lip in fecal matter, it pays to have a product like that.

  2. I sure would have missed this story on the front page of if you hadn’t blogged about it. Oh wait, you actually had something interesting to say? Or you just want to do a little Limbaugh-esque snarky ranting except from the left. Executives from a several hundred billion dollar corporation cover up $25MM in bribes of local government officials. Terrible story, let’s prosecute the bastards, but how that turns into snark about ‘proud day to be American’ eludes me. Unless you’re holding back on some actual insight beyond your snark. Walmart’s execs sure seemed worried about how proud Americans would react if we found out about their little Mexican screw-up, and the Mexican execs sure seemed to think it was important to keep Bentonville in the dark – neither of which suggests the broader American reaction was expected to be ““more stuff cheap” [Amen], and “business as a moral calling” “highest standards of honesty and transparency” , um, wait a minute, “if no-one’s not many people have been indicted convicted yet, nothing has actually happened; keep moving and go shopping”.”

    1. So, you approve of bribery if it a small percentage of overall revenue, and happened “down there”, and disapprove of snark aimed at the same because you like America, apple pie and cheap stuff?

      1. This would probably have more to say about American culture, if it were about something Walmart was doing in America, rather than notoriously corrupt Mexico. Yes, American corporations have problems with foreign branches adopting local ethics. Our own local ethics are still a bit better than much of the world, though slipping conspicuously, as has been seen with the last few years’ crony capitalism.

  3. On a different point, so James, what do you think of Suu Kyi’s refusal to join the Myanmar parliament?
    Like I said, saints tend not to make good politicians, but to move forward, at some point you negotiate, you don’t just continue saying no, no matter what.

    1. Yes, it is a very different point! I’ve been travelling and may post on this if I think of something vaguely interesting to say.

  4. Imagine, Wallmart engaged in dirty dealing to increase it’s stranglehold on the market. And then they engaged in a coverup. I’m shocked! Shocked!

    And while we are talking about “cheap stuff”: I actually compared prices at Wallmart with some competitors a few years back. I needed a list of houshold stuff like a big trash can, trash bags, push broom, etc. I compared Wallmart, K Mart, Lowes and a local hardware store. The result was that Wallmart sold the worst quality at the highest prices. The best quality and lowest prices were at the local hardware. This may be a local anomaly as the hardware shop had been there foreever and owns the building and the box stores are all in high rent locations in a high rent area but still…
    Heavy marketing of crappy junk and bad service convince people that the discount box stores are cheaper but in my expierience it just isn’t so.

  5. I too think it’s weird to frame this as a stain on American values, rather than on a toxic corporate culture. We’re not the only first-world nation to have experienced corruption, bribes, and graft. Nor is this even an exceptional instance of such within the US (see Enron, Abrahamoff, Madoff, et al as examples.)

    America is complex; we espouse the highest standards, but sometimes Americans engage in the lowest practices. It’s worth pointing these lapses out when they happen, but please keep them in perspective.

    1. The problem that some of us have (you are of course welcome to disagree) is that we view the talking points about American Exceptionalism as a screen to shield large companies who do little, if anything, to grow wealth for the country overall. Henry Ford might have been an asshole, but he did help create a middle class. Last I heard, the beneficiaries of Walmart were more concerned that money passed down might be taxed, and we’re conjuring up imaginary farmers to talk about, instead of themselves.

      If you think that executive compensation, at current levels, makes sense, and that we need to somehow cut Medicare to give more money to companies that don’t pay taxes, then please, keep talking about the American Dream.

      1. Who is your comment responding to? If it’s me, then you’ve missed my point by miles, and also ascribed to me some beliefs that a. I don’t believe and b. you’d have no grounds for knowing based on my brief point above.

        (See, for instance, your wildly speculative comment about my thinking: “If you think that executive compensation, at current levels, makes sense [I don’t], and that we need to somehow cut Medicare to give more money to companies that don’t pay taxes [I don’t], then please, keep talking about the American Dream [I’m an optimist, so yes, I will.]”)

  6. I’m surprised that you didn’t connect the Wal-Mart bribery scandal to the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Columbia.

    The United States, itself, has sunk waist-deep in petty corruption — never mind poor Mexico. Last week, I tried to help an elderly neighbor to get DSL service, to replace AOL dial-up. Dealing with Verizon on the phone was an hour-long series of come-ons. I’m still not sure that I did not commit her to becoming the victim of some bit of fraud, involving a change in her local v long-distance service. My cell-phone provider loves to add fake taxes to my bill. My bank — don’t even get me started. I saw an ad the other day on television for a loan-shark — literally a loan shark! — advertising a loan “product” up to $5000, at 111% interest over a term that could extend to 7 years. Based on an Indian reservation (natch! aren’t most unregulated casinos?), their pitch was that they were offering major savings over payday lenders.

    Liberals, of which used to be one, love to talk airily about “income inequality”, but the problem on the ground is that the wealthy and powerful are deriving their incomes increasingly from petty economic predation and corruption. It undermines the culture, and does so rapidly. Doing the right thing, respect for law — these are just a dim memory in a country, which will prosecute neither torture nor pandemic financial fraud, and requires its youth to accept debt peonage as the price of (possible) admission to the middle class.

    That corrosive culture, accepting as normal petty corruption and monumental greed, undermines all respect, and, pretty soon, you have the elite corps charged with protecting the person of the President of the United States partying hard in a foreign capital.

    1. “…, pretty soon, you have the elite corps charged with protecting the person of the President of the United States partying hard in a foreign capital.”

      At least they were trying to bargain for lower prices.

      1. So, was the appropriately named William Bryan Jennings, the Morgan-Stanley banker, who stabbed a NYC cabbie, who had driven him home to Connecticut, rather than pay the agreed fare.

        The free-market at work is a grand thing.

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