Leadership Shaping Economic Life
Locating Our Interest in Public Economy
- We are not talking about leadership in business organizations,
but leaders of the public economy.
- Public economy concerns the way in which our community
organizes its economic life.
- How are workers to do their work?
- How are purchasers to buy?
- What do workers, business, corporations, and consumers
owe each other?
- What values and patterns of behavior define our
- There is an underlying morality that shapes values
and behaviors in public economy. We are interested in studying the role that
discourse has in shaping the morality and performance of these values and
Our productive, economic lives are
a major public concern
- Values and patterns of proper behavior structure our
- Actions as mundane as how to make a purchase with
a credit card are stylized into learned behavior.
- We consider some economic activity upstanding and
prestigious, other activity as condemnable even if legal.
- We overtly value certain behaviors, such as taking
a risk to develop a new product. But, of course, we condemn imprudent risk.
These seemingly private things are a part of the texture of our public discourse.
- We have certain patterns that mark good workers.
For example, being at work on time is an expectation and violation may get
- Each generation has to learn the values and economic
behaviors that make the economy run smoothly, and to alter certain values
and behaviors that are no longer relevant. For example, a generation ago we
did not expect women to pursue positions in certain fields. Now we like to
think that women can be anything they want to be.
- Although we think of our economic lives as involving
private choice, public values shape it.
- Certain kinds of economic activities - prostitution
or pyramid schemes - are illegal and draw condemnation.
- Companies only make certain goods available to us
which limits our private choice. For example, Microsoft works to make certain
that we have some things for our computers and not other things.
- As a community, we provide tax incentives and other
assistance to business that skews the private decisions that businesses
- As an employee, there are rules and expectations
arrived at through public discussion, often formalized by business organizations,
that define our behavior.
3 General Frameworks for American
Through its history, the United States has been dominated
by three different general patterns of public economy:
The Agrarian nation
- Before the American Civil War the economy was dominated
by people living on homesteads growing most of what they ate and wore.
- These farmers ventured to small towns to supplement
the production of the farm.
- Growth in the country was celebrated geographically.
Each generation moved West to fill in the vast continent with new farms.
- The primary economic organization was the family.
Mother, father, their parents and children lived on the farm and worked the
land, did the gardening and the housework. The limited market tied these economic
- Preparing children to be productive members of society
meant their knowing farming and how to coax life from the land.
- Well-being was in ownership of land that would grow
Industrialization and Urbanization
- Appearing before the Civil War, between the Civil
War and the turn of the twentieth century, industrialization took the predominant
role in the economy.
- This move began with the invention of factories that
took work away from the homestead and concentrated workers in a particular
site for work. After 1900, mass production developed in which workers were
not even responsible for a product, but only were given a role in production.
- With the increase in factories, cities developed to
house the workers and the factories where they worked. There was a great migration
from the farms into the cities. Immigration into the country became primarily
an immigration to the factories and the cities rather than to the farms.
- Well-being became defined by having a dependable job
that would allow you to have a consistent profession.
- Life became dependent on the ability to buy material
needs in a dependable market. Little was actually grown on your own. Rather
your work on the job was a source of money which you then used to buy the
things that you needed.
- The primary economic organization became the corporation.
Large corporations became the builders of factories and the supplier of goods.
Those who worked for the corporations became torn between an identity with
the corporation and an identity as workers. Unions and professional organizations
cemented the identity as workers.
- Preparing children to be productive members of society
meant their learning the rules to work in the large business and industrial
- The family became a consuming unit rather than a unit
of production. Children were, in fact, prohibited from working. The need for
mobility to the factories separated mature children from their parents. Families
often moved and lived in different parts of the country. In fact, meaningfully
the term "family" applied to a wide variety of different living
arrangements. What was in common was that they consumed together.
- After 1890, the geographic frontier was closed. Growth
was no longer defined as geographic travel west, but as building bigger businesses
or building a salary. Progress was measured in "Gross National Product"
rather than in geographic terms.
The Information Age and Globalization
- We are now making the transition into another framework
of public economy.
- The economy today puts a premium on entrepreneurialism
rather than belonging to a dependable organization.
- The language of the day talks about "Growing
the Economy" rather than the corporation or the crop.
- The geographic metaphor is applied to "virtual
- College education is becoming necessary for productive
work in this economy. For the non-college educated, service jobs with low
pay are the option.
- This framework is still being developed. Problems
that characterize the era are just being recognized in public discourse:
- Foreign sweat shops
- The loss of privacy as information becomes a salable
- A loss of job security as business enterprises fail,
downsize, and alter the nature of their operations, hiring employees only
- Collapse of security arrangements in health insurance,
retirement income, and so forth.
Public Discourse Shapes the Public
- Role of Public Discourse. Public discourse
shapes the values and patterns required for the smooth operation of public
- With this discourse we teach and educate in the
values and practices of public economic life.
- We also use public discourse to alter the values
and practices to new situations.
- And public discourse also brings the undesirable
to our attention. Capturing it as deserving of public attention.
- Venues of Discourse. Each era creates its own
venues for public discourse. In agrarian America the taverns and public squares
were sites. Industrialization brought the business clubs, ethnic clubs, and
union halls as places where public discourse developed. Today, the media,
the schools and universities, and the developing speaking capabilities of
the internet are among the venues for discourse.
- Who are the speakers? Business leaders often
do this kind of work. But political leaders, educators, and religious leaders
also play a role.