The buzz about the release of the Hollywood film version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on Dec. 21, plus the lingering Occupy Wall Street movement, reminded me of my
favorite passage in the novel by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson.
One of the main characters, investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, is interviewed by the host of a TV show after breaking a story about a corrupt business empire. The news of the crime had shaken the Stockholm Stock Exchange, which, Larsson writes, “found itself in freefall and a handful of financial yuppies were threatening to throw themselves out of windows.”
Blomkvist is asked what responsibility his magazine bears for the financial crash.
“The idea that Sweden’s economy is headed for a crash is nonsense,” Blomkvist replies in the book.
“We’re experiencing the largest single drop in the history of the Swedish stock exchange – and you think that’s nonsense?” the TV host asks.
“You have to distinguish between two things – the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market,” Blomkvist answers. “The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. There are telephones from Ericsson, cars from Volvo, chickens from Scan, and shipments from Kiruna to Skovde. That’s the Swedish economy, and it’s just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago.”
He continues: “The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn’t have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy.”
The TV host asks Blomkvist if he’s saying that it doesn’t matter that the stock market is
“No, it doesn’t matter at all,” the magazine editor says in the novel. “It only means that a
bunch of heavy speculators are now moving their shareholdings from Swedish companies to German ones. So it’s the financial gnomes that some tough reporter should identify and expose as traitors. They’re the ones who are systematically and perhaps deliberately damaging the Swedish economy in order to satisfy the profit interests of their clients.”
The TV host again asks Blomkvist if he doesn’t think the media bears some responsibility for the financial crisis.
“Oh yes, the media do have an enormous responsibility,” he replies. For at least 20 years financial reporters had failed to scrutinize the suspect enterprise and its leader.
“On the contrary, they have actually helped to build up his prestige by publishing brainless, idolatrous portraits. If they had been doing their work properly, we would not find ourselves in this situation today.”
The passage made me think of Jack Welch, the chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001.
While Welch wasn’t involved in any illegal activity that I know of, his loyalty to America certainly is suspect. And he, too, was aided by a fawning business press that bought
every line of his self-serving baloney.
Also known as “Neutron Jack,” Welsh would fire 10 percent of GE managers each year – the ones some corporate brain trust decided were the lowest-performing. I have my doubts
about whether they really were. There’s a lot of politics in most workplaces, too.
In his book “Jack: Straight From the Gut,” Welch bragged about eliminating 112,000 GE employees between 1980 and 1985. Some 81,000 were laid off and the rest went with the businesses that GE sold.
Wall Street cheered every time an American corporation reduced its workforce or sent jobs overseas, or south of the border, during those go-go days.
It was always a wise decision for the company to have shed expenses and improved earnings for the shareholders. What it meant for the workers and America wasn’t mentioned.
Former U.S. senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota chronicled the era (which continues to this day) in his excellent 2006 book “Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America.”
Welch’s management practices were copied thousands of time over, and millions of
American jobs were shipped aboard or eliminated.
Thousands of products once proudly made in America – Huffy bicycles, Radio Flyer wagons, Ralph Lauren shirts and trousers – are now produced overseas.
Dorgan tells the story of fired Huffy workers in Celina, Ohio, whose last task was to take the American flag off bicycles and replace it with a decal of the globe.
Other countries have trade policies to protect workers. Ours protect wealth.
It’s come back to harm the real economy in the United States. Unemployed people don’t have much buying power, and require more government assistance.
And how are things going in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker promised that eliminating bargaining rights for public workers and cutting government spending would lead to an economic revival?
Not so hot.
The state led the nation in job losses in October, according to a story in The Capital Times online newspaper. Quoting U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the newspaper said
Wisconsin had 9,700 fewer jobs in October than it did in September.
Last month, the governor’s own administration predicted that the state would fall short of his campaign promise to add 250,000 private-sector jobs by the end of his four-year
As of September, the state had added just 29,300 since Walker took over as governor at the start of 2011. The number is now down to 19,600.