Dr Frankenstein Misunderstands His Own Monster


Depending how you define it, success sometimes isn’t. In the wake of a narrowly-defined success, you can easily overlook the seeds of failure caused by all the factors you left out to create your “success”. Dr Frankenstein “created” life – a success – but utterly failed to understand that having done that, he would then lose control of it. The Frankenstein story is generally taken to be a cautionary tale about radical scientific advance but could be equally informative concerning the dangers of blind hubris in other fields.

Take Eddie Lampert, Sears’ CEO as an example of the “success” of the Greed Is Good, Selfishness Is Better school of corporate philosophy. Living up to it has made him extremely rich. It has also utterly destroyed Sears.

You might say that Lampert is the distillation of the fervent market worship and wrong-headed economic approaches that came to dominate the U.S. in the 1980s and have yet to run their fatal course. He adores Ayn Rand, and is reported to have given out copies of Atlas Shrugged during an ESL annual dinner. Lampert is also a fan of Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian economist beloved by conservatives and libertarians. As a Robert Rubin protégé, he absorbed the lessons of a man whose discredited economic focus on budget deficits ended up starving the country’s infrastructure, education and alternative energy.

Looking at what Lampert has done to Sears, we can see what happens when the lessons of his mentors are actually applied in the real world. It isn’t pretty.

***

The neoclassical economic paradigm is built upon the idea a human being is little more than a globule of self-interest. It teaches that the market economy is populated by rational individuals whose selfishness is constrained only by expediency….

At Sears, Lampert set out to create the Ayn Rand model of a giant firm. The company got a radical restructuring. It was something that had been tried at giant industrial conglomerates like GE, but never with a retailer.

First, Lampert broke the company into over 30 individual units, each with its own management, and each measured separately for profit and loss. Acting in their individual self-interest, they would be forced to compete with each other and thereby generate higher profits.

What actually happened is that units began to behave something like the cutthroat city-states of Italy around the time Machiavelli was penning his guide to rule-by-selfishness… [T]hey went to war with each other.

This is a result that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s survived a grammar school playground but reality doesn’t touch people like Lambert, and it seems if you have enough money you can pretend reality is a cartoon. The outcome was predictable.

Sears has lost half its value in five years.

Half.

Lambert hasn’t learned a goddam thing from all this. The bubble he lives in allows him to count the destruction of the company he’s supposed to be shepherding as a “success” because he himself has made oodles from that destruction. A definition of success so narrow could include starting a nuclear war provided you were in the nuclear bomb business because your stock would go up.

Not surprisingly, the political party most tied to that particular philosophy is having similar problems. Blinded by its success in creating a far right wing attack dog to bedevil hated liberals called The Tea Party, the GOP has now become the victim of its “success”: the vicious dog it trained to attack any lack of extreme ideological purity has stripped the party of electable candidates.

 As senatorial committee chairman, [Kansas Sen. Jerry] Moran has the tricky task of navigating between a very conservative primary electorate and a party that desperately wants to win control of the Senate. That means he must recruit and fund candidates who have broad enough appeal to win statewide races without alienating his party’s activist base, which scorns any interference by Washington in local politics.

Good luck with that, Jerry.

Already, some of Moran’s candidate endorsements are at odds with conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which have rejected the Senate candidacies of U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia and former Gov. Mike Rounds in South Dakota, complaining that the two politicians are “too liberal.” Rounds and Capito face conservative challengers.

On Tuesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz complicated what would have been an uncontested primary in Wyoming by announcing that she’d run for the Republican nomination against incumbent Sen. Michael Enzi.

Moran said his committee would back Enzi.

And piss off Liz, darling of the Sarah Palin/TP wing of the GOP – the wing that now controls who the candidates are by controlling the primaries. And they’re not giving an inch. Ideological purity (generally defined by FauxNews and thus inherently self-contradicting) remains their touchstone and they’ve promised to bring down anyone tarred with liberal impurities like common sense or compassion or acknowledgement of reality.

“Success” can be a bitch.

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