My Two Cents

By Dom Serafini

In my view, the world is divided into those who crave simplicity and those who thrive on complexity. I'd put the Americas, Africa and the Pacific in the first category; Europe, the Middle East and the Far East in the second.

Why should we care? Because back when the television business was simple and the world complex, TV executives helped to maintain a continuous channel of communication and relations between nations. Now that show business is complicated and the world is reduced to an "axis of evil," television is nowhere to be found.

The fact that Europeans find comfort in complexity is not new. The XIX Century Prussian philosopher, Frederick Nietzsche, said that "people do not love truth or simplicity." He should have known, considering he lived in what is today Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

In Europe, simplicity is viewed as a menace. "Today, we're threatened by a new simplistic approach," commented French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrineand about the U.S.'s "axis of evil" foreign policy. Paradoxically, simplicity is too complex a concept to understand, and complexity is dismissed as a simplistic way to create misunderstandings.

The simplicity vs. complexity argument is now the true world divider. For example, take illicit financing to politicians. In Europe and throughout the "Complex Block," intricate schemes are developed to hide payments to politicians: Italians invented "bustarelle" (envelopes), "mazzette" (piles), "tangenti" (kickbacks) and "fondi neri" (overseas funds). In France, corporate kickbacks to politicians are called "les affaires" if they concern the right, and "Angolagate," if they apply to the left. Similar schemes are found in Germany, the U.K. and Spain.

In the U.S. and other "Simple Block" countries, one can openly get the best politician money can buy. Indeed, political contributions are advertised everywhere. Recently, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published a report indicating how, during the 2000 U.S. elections, political parties reaped $450 million in "soft money," which is close to what they received in "hard money" contributions, mostly from big corporations and rich individuals. In Europe, if politicians get caught with their fingers in the till, they either become the party leader or are disgraced according to political alliances. In the U.S., politicians immediately stage televised Senate hearings and congressional inquiries in order to simply pass the buck.

Take, for instance, the Enron case, which doled out millions of dollars to politicians in order to remain free of regulations that would have obstructed its Ponzi schemes. In a "Complex Block" country, the blame would have gone straight to the politicians for having allowed such rackets, but in "Simple Block" countries such as the U.S., politicians blamed everyone except themselves: management, corporate auditors, lawyers, accountants and Wall Street.

In addition, in "Simple Block" countries, the press deems reporting on limits and/or public interest issues too complex (case in point: TV news will never touch TV duopoly, TV ownership or investigate media mergers). Warnings about unsavory schemes sanctioned by the best politicians money can buy come only from "Complex Block" countries. Indeed, warned Europe's The Economist: "The financial shenanigans that undid Enron are not unique to this industry ... deregulation, whether in energy or elsewhere, should not be equated with no regulation."

When, in early 1999, the Dow Jones (the stock market quotation averages of industrials, rails and utilities published by The Wall Street Journal) topped 9,000, The Economist editorialized that "America is experiencing a serious asset-price bubble." Joe Kernen, the CNBC cable TV network's stocks editor, simply dismissed the criticism by saying: "A lot of financial journalists seem to hate capitalism." Even Newsweek entered the fray by reporting that U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan had privately poked fun at The Economist's editorial.

Conversely, the "Complex Block" rails against simplistic statements, as w as the case with Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati, whose "simplistic" views were widely criticized. In the pages of Wired magazine, former FCC chairman Reed Hundt (who sliced his share of regulations when he headed the communications authority) chastised current FCC chairman Michael Powell for "abdicating the responsibility Congress has given him," and "its extraordinary lawlessness [which] disserves the country's interests." Powell simply retorted that "monopoly is not illegal by itself in the United States".

America loves monopolies because they're simple, and simplicity loves America. Indeed, many concepts are subversively too complicated for the U.S..

"The blinking 12:00 on the world's VCRs symbolizes everything that AOL should not be. The [simple] automatic garage door opener, on the other hand, signifies everything AOL is," Barry Schuler, chairman of AOL was quoted as saying in Continental Magazine.

Dom Serafini