Readers Report

21st Century Ideas: The Good, the Dangerous, the Unmentioned

All of the ''21 Ideas for the 21st Century'' (Cover Story, Aug. 30) are interesting and imaginative--but also dangerous extrapolations into the murky future. The past century has brought technological changes of enormous and unprecedented proportions into our lives. The pace of development is ever-increasing, and will certainly continue to accelerate as we make the transition into the next century. Most of your predictions, in fact, assume that as a given.

Yet therein lies the rub. The changes we have experienced so far have in many ways benefited mankind. Medical advances come to mind as an obvious example. Many innovations, however, are of a decidedly two-edged nature: Automobiles have increased our personal freedom but have also turned us into a nation of overweight, out-of-shape candidates for premature diabetes, heart disease, and other unpleasant afflictions. Our communities have been turned into a collection of strip malls and parking lots. Our children are deprived of the exercise they need because we drive them everywhere. Our sense of civility has become a victim of road rage.

Television, and more recently computers, have greatly expanded our access to information, but rather than having an ennobling effect, too many of us have become couch potatoes addicted to the laugh track of banal sitcoms or the questionable allures of porno sites.

The key issue is that, while technology heaps new capabilities on us at a breakneck pace, we have in many ways remained moral and ethical pygmies, unable to deal effectively and responsibly with this cornucopia of technical wizardry. This issue must be addressed and resolved as part of the agenda for the immediate future, or we risk becoming a society that spins out of control from a sheer incapacity for absorbing an ever-increasing rate of change.

Paul W. Rosenberger
Manhattan Beach, Calif.

The rise in nationalism and separatism goes much beyond the Internet and globalization. Much of it is caused by the demonization of central government by conservatives and the resulting abdication of responsibility to states, provinces, etc. When differences in opinions, ethnicities, or economic strength become territorial, separatism raises its head. You mention New York City-- but the U.S. is not immune: As shown by the elections of 1996 and 1998, there already is a huge ideological gulf between the Northeast, the northern Middle West, and the Pacific Coast on one hand, and the Southeast, the Deep South, and the Mountain States on the other. The latter group now runs Congress and seeks to impose its agenda on the rest of us. Not that separatism is a clear and present danger so far. But one thing that the world does not need is a neo-Confederacy that would make apartheid-era South Africa look like Sweden.

John E. Ullmann
Professor Emeritus of Management
Hofstra University
Hempstead, N.Y.

Thank you for the monumentally stupid cover story. You first express disdain for prediction, projection, and extrapolation, yet then engage in same for 80 pages. You start from the (correct) premise that scenario planning is a useful tool in creating the flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness necessary for an uncertain future, but then go off on speculative tangents untethered to basic realities of economics, human nature, or common sense.

Personal turbines? A 2,000-member U.N.? Leaderless corporations? Virtual teleportation? Great fun, perhaps, but in the end, useless for informing business planning today. I have made a fine living as a professional trends analyst and business futurist over the past 20 years debunking such drivel for my clients, subscribers, and seminar audiences, and obviously I can look forward to doing the same for the next 20 years as well.

By all means, renew my subscription.

Roger Selbert
Editor & Publisher
Growth Strategies
Santa Monica, Calif.

Although your issue was thought-provoking and interesting, you missed two of the big problems that will confront our offspring during the coming century:

1) Continuing growth of population, mainly in the Third World, and the spillover into the possibly shrinking industrialized countries.

2) Industrial and agricultural demand for water by a growing population, and climatic fluctuations in the distribution of precipitation. The engineering, environmental, economic, and political implications for managing our hydrological resources are only beginning to be addressed. Water-resource management will require a massive effort.

I encourage you to consider presenting articles on these topics; they will be hot potatoes.

James Weinman
Vienna, Va.

An Unfair Poke at Mutual Funds?

It is useful to remind mutual-fund shareholders to consider fees in their decision-making Process, (''High fund fees have got to go,'' Business Week Investor, Aug. 16). That helps promote financial literacy and investor awareness. But by advancing flawed arguments to support this reminder, Robert Barker does just the opposite.

Contrary to the implication left by the Barker Portfolio, the total cost of purchasing equity mutual funds has declined by 34% since 1980. As of last year, 77% of equity fund shareholder accounts were in funds that charged less than the average expense ratio for all equity funds. Regrettably, the article ignored this important information. Moreover, most mutual funds are less expensive than bank, insurance, and otHer financial products.

The article's most fundamental error was to assume that industrywide growth should lead to industrywide economies of scale. But economies of scale do not occur industrywide; they occur fund by fund. For example, if the industry grows solely because of the entry of many new funds, virtually no economies of scale would be realized.

Finally, the comments about independent directors at mutual funds are not just wrong, but insulting. Mutual funds have for 60 years successfully avoided major scandal, a record without peer in the world of financial services. Independent directors have contributed significantly to this achievement.

Matthew P. Fink
Investment Company Institute

Staying Out of a Family Squabble

I would like to clarify Mills Corp.'s position on the proposed stadium project with the San Francisco 49ers (''Not exactly what you'd call a weak sister,'' Sports Business, Aug. 16). It does not appropriately reference Mills Corp.'s role in the dispute between Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. and his sister, Denise DeBartolo-York. Mills negotiated with Edward on developing the stadium mall, because he was the recognized owner of the team at the time. Mills was not a player in the family's argument over ''self-dealing.'' The feud and the lawsuit is between the siblings; Mills is not a party to either. It is improperly suggested that Mills declined comment on charges by the sister of Edward's ''lavish lifestyle.'' Instead, we declined comment on the legal dealings between the two.

Mark J. Rivers
Executive Vice-President
Mills Corp.
Arlington, Va.

Mixed Reviews for Mixing Professions

Bravo to Jeffrey Garten for highlighting the folly of merging the disparate professional practices of law and public accounting with one another and with other consulting enterprises (''Ethics be damned, let's merge,'' Economic Viewpoint, Aug. 30). Indeed, Garten's succinct analysis just begins to outline this disaster in the making.

The ultracompetitive nature and lightning pace of the modern business world is preventing otherwise thoughtful businesses from seeing the essential reasons why such professional practices have historically been kept separate, and for good reason. The public accounting profession on the one hand has a higher responsibility to the public and the investment markets at large. Its independence is priceless, and has been a cornerstone of the transparency of our capital markets since the Depression. Even chipping away at it today will irrevocably lead to the collapse of the whole structure, with consequences too gruesome to imagine.

Similarly, the legal profession relies upon the sanctity of such principles as attorney-client privilege, the protection of attorney work product and mental thought processes, and the duty (indeed, the right) to represent one's client zealously. Blurring the distinctions between attorneys and non-attorneys, let alone permitting them to practice together, will destroy all of that, to the ultimate detriment of business itself.

The fact that certain shortsighted members of the business community demand ''one-stop shopping'' is insufficient reason to endanger the whole system.

Anthony Michael Sabino
Professor of Law
College of Business Administration
St. John's University
Jamaica, N.Y.

Jeffrey Garten's column demonizing multidisciplinary practices fails to take into account the everyday consumers who stand to benefit from new American Bar Assn. rules allowing accountants and lawyers to provide collaborative, ''one-stop-shopping'' alternatives.

The ABA has a rare opportunity to make ordinary people's lives easier. Just think about buying a home--in many states you need a real estate agent, a lawyer, an appraiser, a title searcher, a mortgage lender, and an insurance agent. It's a time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating process. Imagine how much easier it would be if you could get all these services in one place.

It's hard to argue that such an arrangement does not make good business sense. I am confident rules could be written that protect consumers and corporations from inappropriate practices without compromising the principles central to the legal profession. Professional service firms must evolve to meet the changing needs of their clients. To do otherwise is to ignore that we live in a world of change.

Lora H. Weber
President and Executive Director
Consumers Alliance of the Southeast

Ann Livermore and Gender Bias

Ann Livermore (''The hottest property in the Valley?'' People, Aug. 30) was in poor taste. What an example of gender bias! Like many others, you just can't seem to understand how to present a woman's profile. For example, you didn't have a picture of Chris Galvin in a diaper! Ann Livermore had the only baby picture in the issue.

Far exceeding even the lowest standards of politically incorrect was the outrageous comparison of wardrobes to Carleton S. Fiorina! You didn't comment on Boris Yeltsin's wardrobe. How could you stoop so low as to use ''plain Jane''? Why didn't you comment on her ability to network? Apparently, it has contributed more to her advancement than her ''premature gray hair.'' Did it ever occur to you that Ann Livermore's flight up in Hewlett-Packard was propelled by her ability to fit into the culture and be just ''one of the executives'' because she doesn't see gender at work?

Michele Hauger
Riegelsville, Pa.

''The hottest property in the valley?'' (People, Aug. 30)

''The hottest property in the valley?'' (People, Aug. 30) referred inaccurately to certain scholarships at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Named after John Morehead, they are called the Morehead Scholarships.

''21 ideas for the 21st Century'' (Special Double Issue, Aug. 30)

''21 ideas for the 21st Century'' (Special Double Issue, Aug. 30) mentioned that the drug finasteride is used to treat and prevent prostate cancer. In fact, the Merck & Co. drug has been officially approved by the Food & Drug Administration only to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia and male-pattern baldness.

''The last word in the new words'' (Up Front, Aug. 30)

''The last word in the new words'' (Up Front, Aug. 30) should have referred to a punk designer as Vivienne Westwood, not Vivian.

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An Unfair Poke at Mutual Funds?

Staying Out of a Family Squabble

Mixed Reviews for Mixing Professions

Ann Livermore and Gender Bias

21st Century Ideas: The Good, the Dangerous, the Unmentioned

''The hottest property in the valley?'' (People, Aug. 30)

''21 ideas for the 21st Century'' (Special Double Issue, Aug. 30)

''The last word in the new words'' (Up Front, Aug. 30)

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