It was a pleasure speaking with you on Friday. I cannot thank you enough for the work you have undertaken. You are a beacon of truth in a sea of complacency and misinformation. However, unless your message is appropriately communicated to the general public, insufficient action will be taken to preclude the financial implosion of the United States of America.
Most people are not schooled in financial, accounting and economic terms or concepts. We must soberly recognize that we live in an age of overspecialization. The majority of us focus on what we need to know in order to win our daily bread and not much more. Additionally, we live in an escapist/entertainment driven culture. The bread and circuses of Rome come to mind.
We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, guilty of where we stand as a society. And yet, we are not likely to respond positively to the scolding we so richly deserve.
On the whole, “We the People” get up, go to work and seek some kind of entertainment – typically simplistic and empty – for the purpose of soothing our existential woes. Consequently, when it comes to communicating with us, the saying, “If you confuse us, you lose us,” must be obeyed.
Chris Yandek and I were discussing the interview we had with you on Friday. As we spoke about how best to get your critical message out, he brought up the trial of O.J. Simpson. He quoted Johnnie Cochran, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” using that quotation as an example of simple, reductionist messaging utilized to devastating effect.
Attorney Cochran’s words were memorable because they rhymed, his point was specific and the action he asked for was concrete. Success leaves clues. Interestingly, he utilized this messaging modality – predicated on brevity being the soul of wit – back in 1994. Our collective attention deficit, owing to the Internet and the proliferation of related information delivery technologies, has increased substantially since then.
The days when Walter Cronkite’s news reports served as a national campfire, around which to reflect and dialog, are long gone. We live in a time of drastically splintered societal focus.
Accountants, economists and financial professionals, assuming they have the best interests of the American people at heart, might do their level best trying to convince us there is little time left to take action and change the national trajectory before we land upon the shoals of devastating calamity. However, if these otherwise intelligent individuals do not understand the way in which people process information and messaging, their good intentions will land on the ash heap of history, along with our once prosperous nation.
David, please forgive me what may seem impudence. I suggest you read or reread Gustave Le Bon’s very short book, The Crowd. Written in the 19th century, it is as pertinent today as it was then. In short, Le Bon says that people do not listen to those who simply tell the truth. They listen to, and are mastered, by those individuals who tell them what they want to hear.
The book is available online here.
Please pay careful attention to Chapter III, section 2 pages 125 to 132 here.
It is a sickeningly sad truth that the likes of Hitler and Mussolini – damnable and despicable individuals that they were – took heed of Le Bon’s observations and used them for unspeakable evil. The good news is that the application of crowd psychology need not and should not be the province of despots and dictators bent on controlling others for their sick and twisted desires.
Instead, great and noble communicators can take the truth and, obeying the mechanics of crowd psychology, put it into a form that people not only need to hear but want to hear and, most importantly, will act upon. To ignore the dynamics of persuasive messaging is to accept defeat.
Great people of history, be they FDR, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc., found ways to tell people the truth while at the same time motivating them to take action leading to necessary, meaningful change.
You said that we are two years away from where Greece was when its debt crisis began, assuming we do not change our trajectory now. Do you really believe that a hard working person, who likely has little if any financial background, will viscerally connect with solutions that do not articulate direct and simple remedies?
Simple does not mean easy. Yet, if we say, “Cut Congress, the president and vice president’s pay in half and make it illegal for any of them to ever make money out of lobbying,” people will understand what precisely needs to be done. It is a small enough pill to swallow for starters. It is a concise message that taps into the anger of our times.
Some might say this type of call to action is populism at its worst. Others will say it is a waste of time because its impact on the budget is infinitesimal. So too, there are those individuals who will say it is interesting as a symbolic gesture but nothing more.
One of the points you make, David, is that we need leaders who lead. How do we do that unless our first course of action is to create a climate under which those in positions of leadership have no other choice but to lead? You say that the term “professional politician” is an oxymoron. I offer that “lead by example” is redundant. There is no other way to lead but by example.
Making our elected officials live the financial realities that are upon us will, in turn, give them the requisite motivation and needed moral authority to take the kind of action that the public would otherwise find completely unacceptable.
Without the Congress, the president and the vice president out in front, setting the example for the nation – like courageous platoon leaders in the midst of battle – how will we ever come close to asking ourselves the most difficult, unpalatable and, to many of us, unthinkable questions about how to put America on the road to true financial health?
How do you ask federal workers to take a pay cut?
How do you significantly cut the military budget?
How do you ask seniors to give up or accept lesser prescription drug benefits, once they have gotten used to having them?
How do you let certain tax breaks expire?
How do you ask people to pay more in order to fund Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
How do you pull in the reins on foreign aid?
How do you enforce fiscal sobriety and discipline?
I will tell you how. You do it by example, or you will never be able to do it at all.
None of us wants to take a pay cut. None of us wants to receive fewer services. None of us wants to pay more for the services we already have. Such is the human condition. Yet, if our leaders were to lead courageously, taking great cuts themselves before asking us to take more modest cuts, it would serve as a mighty motivator and open our minds to doing what is in the best interests of the nation.
David, you call our two party system a duopoly. Of course, you refer to the Democrats and Republicans. I say we have a different two party system, the people in power and the rest of us. The general public feels this and is angry. This has given rise to movements like the Tea Party and Occupy. Frankly, I think they have far more in common than what separates them.
What I humbly suggest is the creation of a victorious cycle. It would be initiated by people like you, individuals who enjoy absolute credibility. You would call for a few concrete steps to be taken to right our ship of state. I refer to steps that “We the people” could readily identify with. They would be steps that defied partisanship, were concise and concrete in nature and could be used as both rallying cry and starting point to fix things.
What fiscal conservative or person on the Right is going to be able stand up to the American public with a straight face and say, “No, don’t cut my pay, just allow me to cut from everyone else?” What liberal or progressive person on the Left is going to be able to lay claim to altruistic goals if they are not willing to do their fair share by lightening their own pockets before those of the average citizen?”
Roman ruin is upon us. Yet, what can save us is the same thing that has been tearing us down; that is our modern ability to communicate and disseminate information. Ultimately, you must communicate with us in a concrete, concise and repetitive manner.
How much time is spent by “We the People” idling ourselves online, narcotizing ourselves with bits of random information as a way to avoid facing the difficult road ahead? This is what you are competing with.
David, you must offer us simple steps that we must take in order to rescue our future. We need a rallying cry leading to results.
I sincerely believe most Americans have an “us and them” mentality when it comes to our elected officials in Washington. We need high credibility individuals like you to take the spotlight right now and articulate a plan of action with, perhaps, three tangible steps to get the ball rolling.
If a bill were passed in Congress cutting the salaries of the president, vice-president and the Congress in half; if that bill eliminated their rich after office benefits and if that bill included a lifetime prohibition against any kind of lobbying by them or their assistants, it would act as a monumental lever for change.
This action would directly tap into the nation’s outrage. In truth, we are not simply outraged at Washington. We are outraged at ourselves for squandering the blessings of Providence. If we force our leaders to lead, by bringing them to heel, they in turn will have the moral high ground from which to operate and convince the rest of us to take part in a national process of healing and redemption that, while being somewhat painful, will restore our national pride and the future of our progeny.
I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to read this. I know your time is extremely valuable.
Thank you again for your magnificent efforts in the face of daunting indifference and learned helplessness. And, while you might not find my course of action to be one you particularly agree with, at least please reconsider the tactics you might use to best communicate with “We the People.”
Long Live the United States of America!
Prior to posting this letter, we sent a copy of it to David Walker. The former Comptroller General of the United States was kind enough to give us a response. We thank him.
Thanks for your comments and recommendations. I commit that I will read “The Crowd”.
I agree that we need changes to the compensation system of federal elected officials, including post employment benefits. We also need strict prohibitions on lobbying by former elected officials for an extended period of time. However, these actions should be in addition to rather than in lieu of the other political reforms outlined in “Comeback America” and others that I have advocated publicly.
My desire is simple, to state the facts, speak the truth, and offer non-partisan solutions that can achieve bipartisan support in connection with the fiscal and other key sustainability challenges facing our nation. My goal is simple, to keep America great and to help ensure that our future will be better than our past.
All the best,
*You can see the CYInterview with David Walker here.