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A Reflection on President Obama’s Inauguration Speech

On Jan. 20, we witnessed the inauguration of President Obama. 

Although nearly 2 million people traveled to the nation’s capital to experience the event, it was brought to most of us through the marvels of modern communications technology — TV and radio, of course, and reportedly millions more watched on the Web. I watched it in on a cluster of Panasonic Viera HDTVs with hundreds of other employees in our company cafeteria.

Obama’s speech was stirring, but stern. He minced no words, stating bluntly at the outset that “we are in the midst of crisis.” While characterizing the diverse challenges that we face as “real, serious and many,” Obama was equally clear about the enduring truths that will guide our country toward a new period of prosperity and peace.
Filled with relatively short, but powerful, statements, the content of Obama’s speech reflects an understanding of the complexities of the financial downturn that is affecting nearly all aspects of the economy, including the consumer electronics industry.  While I was struck by many aspects of his speech, today I’d like to focus on just two.

First, I am particularly glad that the president made the following keen observation about the present economic situation: “Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.” This wonderful reminder of the indomitable strengths of our market economy is strong tonic against today’s prevalent pessimism — a pessimism that has created what the President called “a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.”

We in the consumer electronics industry can heed his call, and with the power of the innovation for which our industry is famous, we can create new products and new markets that can help to quickly restart the economy. We should not underestimate the impact that consumer electronics can have on consumers’ lives. Our products help create enjoyment and productivity for consumers worldwide. Whether it is new energy-efficient and eco-conscious plasma and LCD televisions or the still-developing 3-D technologies for Blu-ray Disc movies, our industry’s products empower consumers to lead more fulfilling lives. As our products empower consumers, so will that empowerment be translated into market strength.

Second, I appreciate the president’s reference to the power of the free market. Unlike those who are calling for a new regime of sometimes overly prescriptive and innovation-inhibiting regulations, Obama reminded us of his fundamental respect for market economics when he said: “Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.”

Indeed, I would argue that a quick economic recovery will be intrinsically linked to truly unleashing the power of free market forces. As we have seen, however, the market can only operate effectively when there is full transparency and access to honest information. Indeed, it was the creation and sometimes unquestioning use of many non-transparent financial vehicles — from the get-rich-quick-style funds to the pooling/repackaging of sub-prime loans into incomprehensibly complex securities — that underlies today’s economic troubles. The lack of transparency of these vehicles prevented market forces from exercising their natural self-correcting process. So, rather than permitting artificial and non-productive restraints on trade to be imposed on our businesses and products, let us in the consumer electronics industry take the lead in strongly urging our government to focus its oversight on ensuring that market forces can operate correctly; to which end we must simultaneously recommit to operating our businesses in a fully transparent manner.

 Obama has set a new and positive tone for our country. His informed optimism and fundamental faith in the strength of our economic system to reset itself should be a guide for each of us going forward.  The consumer electronics industry should take the President’s message to heart as he goes about the massive job of putting the country’s economic house in order once again.