The Daily Gamecock

Society must adjust focus to long-term solutions

Desire for speed, instant gratification detracts from depth, quality of ideas

 

One of the most pressing concerns today is the shifting of attention by society from long-term issues to short-term affairs, with the latter being given a disproportionate amount of weight in national discussions and solutions. The capitalist Western world used to invest in long-term, engineering-based, dividend-paying projects such as infrastructure development, research and development and education. 

Today, however, stocks are traded in milliseconds, and the average timespan of stockholding in the New York Stock Exchange has shrunk from more than five years to about five months, according to a report in 2011 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Investors seek short-term gains at the expense of a company’s long-term survival and the positive impact that corporations may have in the communities it serves; small, immediate profits are made by cutting thousands of workers from payrolls that would in many cases have otherwise contributed to the firm’s expansion in the long run. The former vice chairman of General Motors Company, Bob Lutz, is right on point when he says that the war over control of American industry is being lost to bean counters in his book, “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters.” 

Politicians boost pet projects to the floor of Congress to shore up home district spending on one-time grants for programs of questionable merit, yet shy away from allowing long-term fixes to entitlement and defense spending to be passed in congressional committees. They are merely extensions of the constituents who vote them into office. The CEO of Tupperware, Rick Goings, recently denounced these Americans in a corporate earnings call when he stated, “The USA is basically a Wal-Mart market. Our top-tier products... [are] hard to sell ... in the U.S., because that’s a discount market over there.” Goings claimed correctly that Americans would purchase cheap products multiple times with more impact to their purse rather than a slightly more expensive product that lasts longer. 

This phenomenon extends to almost all aspects of our society’s behavior. The fundamental driving force of this shift in attention is the advent and increased penetration of the Internet. Unfortunately, while the Internet increases the quantity and reach of information, it doesn’t necessitate a high quality of information. Publications such as the Huffington Post are read before its well-researched counterparts when searching headline news. The two-way interaction between information and people has gone from quality debate to re-posting in the social media sphere, and along the way, a lot of misinformation arises.  

The Internet and a faster, multi-tasking way of life is an inescapable change in our society. However, as members of the millennial generation, we need to be involved in efforts to restrict the race-to-the-bottom tendencies of our current societal trajectory. We need to place time limits on share trading, discuss laws that increase the independence of a company’s leadership from shareholders and work on ideas that can help us escape from a myopic lifestyle that we have created.

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