Saying ‘yes’ is one of the dominant tropes of American life. America’s favorite politicians are the sunny optimists: think Ronald Reagan and “Morning in America.” In fact, the culture is so insistent on looking on the bright side that, as Barbara Ehrenreich complained in a recent book, injunction can be heard on the cancer ward. You might even say — and some historians have — that Americans themselves have been pre-selected for their optimism: you or your ancestors had to have a powerful faith in the New World and the opportunities here to make the trek over in the first place.
At last Friday’s Wharton Private Equity Partners Distressed Investing Symposium, Chrystia interviewed Mark Gallogly, co-founder and managing principal at Centerbridge Partners, a private equity and credit investment firm with $12 billion in assets under management. Gallogly said finding good opportunities in the distressed sector has become tougher as the “wall of maturities” (the point in time when debt must be refinanced) has been pushed further into the future, thanks to the booming market for corporate debt.
Nikesh Arora, Google’s President of Global Sales Operations and Business Development, spoke to Chrystia yesterday at a panel during the Paley Center for Media’s November International Council meeting. Arora explained how Google is able to keep its garage-workshop spirit of innovation even as the company swelled to 20,000 employees. The key, he said, was to establish a “culture of yes” where the default option is for management to approve employees’ new ideas andprojects rather than trying to nitpick and say no. Several of Google’s most recent initiatives, from driverless cars to a new offshore power grid to promote wind power, were the byproduct of this bottom-up process.
Surf the web or watch TV and you will probably conclude that American politicians and American pundits don’t agree on much at the moment. But that polarized public discourse obscures the equally important fact that Americans are remarkably united when it comes to determining what the big issues facing the country are.
Back in September Chrystia appeared on a panel for public-interest communications firm Fenton that addressed the state of corporate social responsibility in business today. She elaborated on her August op-ed in the Washington Post that argued that CSR is a “a fetish encouraged by the philanthropies that feed off it and funded by the corporate executives who have found that it serves their bottom line.” Check out the highlights.
This fall, much of the United States seemed to have settled on a narrative for the country’s struggle to adapt, after a debilitating financial crisis, to a post-industrial and post-unipolar global economy: China and its undervalued currency are largely to blame.
A favorite theme of American business and political elites at the moment is that authoritarian regimes—i.e., China—may be better at making hard, long-term economic decisions than are querulous democracies—i.e., the United States. There is plenty of academic research to suggest that, over the long term, this view is wrong. But in the shorter term—this week in fact—America itself offered a case study of this scary theory.