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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

November 10, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Dropping the ball at Penn State and across America

America loves to use football as a metaphor for, well, everything, and nowhere more so than in business. Most of us no longer work in departments, but in teams. The boss is a coach. “We need to focus on blocking and tackling,” the boss, er, coach will intone.

The shameful behavior of Joe Paterno, Penn State’s revered head football coach, comes to light at a sadly appropriate time. Paterno and Penn State’s president have been fired in a child-rape scandal involving a former assistant coach and JoePa’s looking the other way. While he hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing, the grand jury indictment makes for grim but necessary reading. I wonder how much longer Paterno will be listed as a popular motivational speaker for corporate events on the Harry Walker Agency Web site? “Leadership Beyond the Football Field” indeed. Or from Premier Athlete and Celebrity and other speakers’ bureaus (one lists his “booking range” at $50,001 and above)?

Based on the facts so far, you’ll note some interesting parallels with the causes of the Great Recession and the new hard times in which most of us live. There was the cult of the coach (CEO), enabled by co-opted university administrators and trustees (corporate boards, captured regulators and pols, the Federal Reserve), allowing years of mismanagement, lies and outright criminal behavior (ditto) to protect the cash cow of the football program (derivatives, etc). In this case, some accountability may come, but who knows?

Lest you think I’m reaching, our present troubles go beyond economics represent a crisis of institutional legitimacy. Whether it’s big corporations, big government, big banks or big-time sports, American institutions have failed us at a remarkable rate. No wonder the popular anger. The common denominator: Feral greed. Our leaders, with a few exceptions, won’t tell us the truth. They won’t fight for us. Crisis reveals character. And every month, it seems, something new slithers out from under a rock.

And Don’t Miss: The Euro crisis is not about the welfare state || Paul Krugman

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Airbus is late, too

So Boeing can take comfort

China gets ready

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