Risk Latte - A Dream Called America

A Dream Called America

Rahul Bhattacharya
July 06,2006

One Mr. Ken Lay is dead and perhaps America can now go on.

When I was growing up in a small town in India sometimes I used to dream of America . It was mostly because of the stories that I heard from my dad. He had never visited the fair shores of that country but had read a lot about it and would from time to time tell me stories about America ; stories about Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream; stories about how John F Kennedy had saved the world from the brink of a catastrophe the year I was born. And often after dinner he would recite to me the verses from Robert Frost's poems and his favourite was "The Road Not Taken". And then when I was in the University I discovered John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow and Ernest Hemingway. I came to know about Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. I read about scores of physicists who had left Europe to go to America in the hope of making this world a better and safer place.

Every time I would think of America I would think of Princeton or Cal Tech or MIT; I would think of Neil Armstrong the NASA and many a times would day dream about watching "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway. There was always a poet, a physicist or a leader in my dreams about America . Why wasn't there an American CEO in those dreams? Now it seems so strange!

Today all people talk about is a street called Wall Street and a company called General Motors in America . They talk about an American hero named Elliott Spitzer. Elliott Spitzer- that name I have heard somewhere but General Motors I know well. It is in a place called Detroit where the Assembly line was invented and from where many modern day management principles were born. But people don't talk about General Motors as a company anymore; rather, they talk about it as a piece of paper, some sort of an instrument which can be played with in the financial markets. This is brilliant! There was a time when America had sent a man to the moon that had captured the dreams and imaginations of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, including a kid in a small town in India . Today America has transformed a big car manufacturing company into scraps of paper which go by the esoteric name of credit default swaps and which can easily replace the chips in any Las Vegas casino. What a transformation after all!

Today our America is in the television, in the Markets section of the financial newspapers and in all those beautiful, but vacuous, faces on financial TV channels that tell us that a stock went up or down by one tenth of a percent because of five million factors. That is the face of America . That is the face that told the story of Enron and Ken Lay. That is the face that made people like Ken Lay rich and destroyed the lives of thousands of employees of Enron. It is a face that turned a company into a scrap of paper.

Let us not turn companies into scraps of paper. Let there be life beyond Wall Street. Let us make something, build something with a company such that it lives on forever. Let's make a fridge, a car and send a man to the moon. Let us bring back the poet and physicist into our dreams; for it is our dreams that we will ultimately bequeath to our children and grandchildren. The ultimate misfortune of Ken Lay was that he could not bequeath any dream to his grandchildren.

© Rahul Bhattacharya
This column is written by Rahul Bhattacharya and reflects his own views about life and business. It does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other members of Risk Latte Americas Inc., Hong Kong (“the Company”) and the Company accepts no responsibility for any factual errors contained in the column and strongly advises readers not to pay much attention to it.

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