I've been thinking about how to present this entry for a few days now, and seeing an article by John Mellencamp which closely paralleled my views but in relation to the music industry pushed me to finally get it written down.
It was announced recently that the Montreal Canadiens may be up for sale. For this, I feel fear for all the Habs fans out there who may be in for some serious disappointment.
Montreal, much like Toronto, has a money making machine in their hockey team. The performance of the two teams on the rink though have been as polar opposites. So why the big difference?
If you look at somewhat recent history, Montreal's team has been a contender while Toronto's hasn't. I believe this is a direct result of the fact that Montreal is owned by a family interested in the hockey team, while Toronto is owned by corporations interested only in the profits.
This is what frightens me about the Habs being up for sale. They're such a cash cow that they will be a very attractive target for corporate ownership and if that happens, they will be in for decades of stagnation just like Toronto. Hopefully a private buyer like Jim Balsillie will take ownership, but someone like that could easily end up out-bid by some comglomerate of investors.
Once pure profit becomes the primary motivator for how something is run, pride and values become secondary. Ironically, banking and the recent economic crisis serve as a huge example of this.
Back in the day, you'd deal personally with the employees of your financial institution and loan officers would look at your situation to determine how best to work out a relationship between you and your bank. They would try to fairly determine risk factors and come up with solutions that were mutually beneficial. The bank would take in deposits and loan out that money to make a profit. It was the very definition of capitalism, but it was also a working relationship that helped a community prosper. There was no repackaging of loans to sell to other investors and all the other securities bullshit that goes on today.
Now, your bank doesn't care about you anymore. They don't care about helping people or working with the community or even being a bank anymore. Sure, they do things to help their image so they can keep the money flowing in, but ultimately their only responsibility is to the faceless shareholders who only want the profits flowing. There is no more owner to be accountable or to care about how his bank is perceived. Nobody to take pride in the business. From this, we end up with companies like AIG whose employees are only interested in putting money into their own pockets with nobody to stand up and say "No, you can't do that." If there was some guy who owned AIG and cared about the company, would they be giving themselves outrageous bonuses after running the company into the ground? Of course not.
In the end, I think the only viable solution is increased regulation, but then you have to be able to trust the regulators and that's hardly an easy thing to do. It's a start though.
I can't help but think that promoting private ownership of things would move things in a better direction. In the face of competing bids, perhaps there should be a determination of fair market value for a company and if there is an individual able to pay that, then they should take precedence over a company willing to pay more. Competing individuals would be free to bid up to whatever they'd like, but corporate takeover bids would be capped at some independantly audited value.
Bring back some pride of ownership and accountability, and then see whether capitalism can succeed at more than just generating wealth.
If there was some crotchety old man we could blame for the Leaf's failings then at least there would be someone to vilify or to push to do better. There would be someone we could cheer when they showed some success and someone who could feel elated as they brought success to the fans. As it is, we have nothing and no hope of the Teacher's Pension ever loosening their grip.
Here's hoping the same doesn't happen in Montreal.