Southern Business

Evidence that a person is well on his way to becoming an icon can be found in his name being used, as an aside, to validate otherwise spurious theories by the likes of Stephen Stanley – sitting up in Stamford, Connecticut writing for Market Watch that Keynesian economic policies are (ought to be) about to be replaced.

I don’t question that Warren Stephens, the billionaire banker and Lord of Little Rock, likely agrees with Stanley. He said as much in an interview with the Wall Street Journal – simply referring to Stephens in a caption of an illustration to an opinion piece, is to elevate him to the status of icon as is so often done with Ronald Reagan.

Warren Stephens taking aim at John Maynard Keynes

However, the diagnosis of business terror, as well as the prescription of a kinder/gentler tone to provide reassurance that the federal government is not, as Warren Stephens fears, taking over the “allocation of credit” function — i.e. invading the bankers’ bailiwick — somehow doesn’t communicate the fearless, risk-taking, can-do attitude American enterprise used to project. Spreading fear is one thing; admitting to terror is another.

A modest cash enticement to hire will be of little use at the same time that the administration has terrified businesses with health-care reform, Dodd-Frank, hyperactive agencies from the NLRB to the EPA to the soon-to-be-live Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as threatening to put in place punitively higher marginal tax rates.

Incentives matter. And the tone of the public discourse matters.

That said, it may well be the truth. Perhaps all the recent admissions of insecurity by our industrial/financial/commercial establishments are merely revealing what’s been there all along — a reliance on public subsidies, preferential legislation (copyright protection, bankruptcy, trade provisions), depletion allowances and monetary incentives without which our “free enterprise” simply can’t thrive. Perhaps the fear-mongering has been endemic and we just didn’t notice it as long as protecting business was the only game in Washington. Perhaps the public insisting on the public interest being served is the novelty to which our “leaders” are having a hard time adjusting.

That might well explain why Stephens Media, one of Warren Stephens more recently acquired ventures (the family business was originally focused on the bond market), responded to a perceived threat to the copyrights of their newspapers (the Las Vegas Review-Journal, among others) by individual bloggers by filing lawsuits against some 274 of them. Prudence apparently counseled Stephens to employ a surrogate, Righthaven LLC to handle the filing. A good decision, it now turns out, since a number of decisions have found the lawsuits frivolous and most recently a number of judges ruled in favor of defendants who had been targeted from South Carolina to Colorado. On the other hand, now that the assignment of copyright from Stephens Media to Righthaven has been ruled a fraud, the Stephens reputation is being tarnished not just by traditional greed, but by having crossed over the line into subverting the judicial system in lying to a judge.

What is still to be seen is whether the Lord of Little Rock has been chastened or will double-down and insist that he’s the one to tell us how the economy is to be run. By whimps? People who need incentives? Does that mean they need to be incited to do business or is an invitation (from the right person?) enough?

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Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."