Northern Valley Beacon

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Sunday, July 31, 2005


Forget the energy bill; follow John Deere

I do not like corporations, for the most part. I do not like corporations because they are bureaucracies. And bureaucracies--unless they are under constant scrutiny and disciplinary threats if they aren't honest, fair, and decent--always end up doing the stupidest and the worst that humanity can conceive.

My antipathy for corporate bureaucracies stems from a time I worked for some, and it was brought to full bloom while I edited the business section for a newspaper. I was daily witness to how badly most businesses, especially corporations, are run. One of the great fallacies of American culture is the notion that privatization of public enterprises will make them more efficient and useful. Government bureaucracies are bad, but there is always the possibility, as happened with the IRS a few years back, that actions taken at the ballot box will bring them to an accounting for what they do. Corporate bureaucracies have no one but stockholders to call them into account, and as long as the bottomline looks good, stockholders are not concerned about moral and ethical issues. People invest in stocks to make money, not to enhance the moral and intellectual conditions of the communities in which corporations operate.

There are corporations that are concerned about being good corporate citizens, and they are the strength of our country. Deere & Company, for example, is an asset to our nation. Corporations such as Enron, Worldcom, and that great model of war-profiteering, Halliburton, are national disgraces and liabilities.

Deere & Company, the producer of the John Deere brand of agricultural, forestry, lawn, garden, and construction equipment, is an asset because it has built its business on being a productive and responsible corporate citizen. I do not say this because one of my brothers is a Deere retiree. (I worked for now-defunct competitor International Harvester.) I say it because the company works hard to make superior products (some stock analysts accuse it of "over-engineering") and to contribute to and build the communities in which it has operations. When Business Ethics magazine came out with its list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens last year, Deere & Company ranked sixth.

Last week, Deere announced that it is expanding its product and support line to include the harvesting of wind energy. Following the path of the company's founder, John Deere, who invented a plow that worked in mucky but rich prairie soils so that homesteaders could reap livings from the land, the company has turned to helping farmers harvest energy from the wind.

It created a business unit to provide project development, debt financing, and to manufacture winds turbines for farmers interested in harvesting their own wind. The company's program envisions individual farmers putting up one to two units a year on their land. Deere president Robert Lane says the program is consistent with Deere's objective of helping farmers improve profitability and productivity in their invdividual operations.

Deere has invested $8 million in model projects in Texas and Minnesota. It expects to invest $60 million in the product project by the end of the year. In 2004, wind power produced less than 7,000 megawatts of energy. Projections are that it will produce more than 100,000 by 2020, and Deere plans to help the nation reach that goal--if not surpass it.

While politicians from both parties are crowing about the energy bill which contains nothing to reduce the cost of energy, which is cutting deep into household incomes, Deere & Company is taking action that can lead to real energy independence. If it can be done, Deere will do it. The government and oil companies can flap in the wind while Deere helps farmers make electricity from it.

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