Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama

Today on LinkedIn, Senator Barack Obama asked this question:

What ideas do you have to keep America competitive in the years ahead?

I am pleased to provide below my response to Senator Obama's inquiry.

Dear Senator Obama,

Respect and Innovation will keep America competitive.

You must offer qualities seen as desirable to those seeking goods and services. You must respect those with whom you collaborate or offer products for sale, and you must offer true innovation.

In the business world and in the broader marketplace, in any human interaction really, effective leaders have two questions:

Can I trust this person?
Does this person offer me anything of value?

No other questions have anywhere near the level of importance. Your country's industries, government, and military must be led by trustworthy people, or those potential business partners in other cultures will look to industries in more trustworthy environments. That is, unless you earn trust, your industries will continue to lose markets.

To establish trust, your industries must demonstrate a sustained respect for and interest in people and their needs. Agreements such as NAFTA, which trample the needs of others by allowing corporations to pollute or force out local competition, are deadly to your country's image, and therefore reduce trust in your country. Allowing your military and your secret police (the CIA, for example) to torture and strip your own citizens of their rights of citizenship further reduces others' estimation of your humanity, and therefore causes people to place less trust in you. You must re-negotiate agreements such as NAFTA in such a way that human rights and local government rights are respected and given precedence over any privileges accorded industries. You must expel political and military leaders who assert the value of torture, and replace these misfits with people of integrity. In every action you take with other nations, you must demonstrate respect.

To establish value, you must offer physical goods and truly valuable services. Anyone dealing with you will expect at least value parity. No longer will you be able to reap inordinate rewards for low-value goods or low-quality services. You must be able to offer your goods and services at a competitive price. This will require innovation in the development, production, and distribution of those goods and services. But more importantly, you will have to develop truly innovative products. This will be difficult for you, since over the last forty or so years, your industries have vigorously sought to divest themselves of R&D capabilities. You are at a distinct disadvantage compared to other countries that are now vigorously accelerating their technical prowess in all areas.

Honestly, I think what is most required, in order to achieve the goal of demonstrating respect and achieving innovation, is a cultural shift. An over-reliance on capitalist values (Ayn Rand's "Virtue of Selfishness") has reduced your country's industry and has caused many around the world to perceive many of your actions as exuding a kind of arrogance. An ignorance of the value of other cultures has further reinforced this perception.

Your country, for many years, was a paragon of liberty and innovation. You have lost both of these qualities. What you have not lost, though, is potential. Many good people, with justifiable pride, call themselves Americans. Your country is full of such people: people of deep integrity, people of great character, people carrying great respect for themselves and others.

Emphasize respect. Emphasize the inherent value of innovation: discovery as an end in itself and not as a means to wealth. If you do this, markets will open, business partners will come. And your country will prosper.

All the best,

Pearson Moore

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