The Bottom Line

GENERIC stock market wall street economy CBS/AP

Here is what I was wondering Friday as I watched the stock market tumble: Whatever happened to old-fashioned businesses, companies that thrive because they turned out the best products or provided the best service?

WorldCom made a lot of money for a while there. It gobbled up telephone companies, and that was supposed to be good for everybody, but was it? Was it easier to get a phone installed or repaired, or even get the phone disconnected? Of course not.

But that didn't matter, because WorldCom was focusing on keeping the price of their stock climbing. Then the bottom fell out.

A lot of people made a lot of money when Time Warner and AOL merged. But if that merger made their products better, I missed it. And maybe it wasn't so good for business after all.

Has the mania to make businesses bigger made airline service better, or anything else?

Yes, we do need tougher laws to stop the kind of shenanigans that went on at Enron and WorldCom. But our real problems began when we changed our minds about what made a good business. As more and more Americans invested in the stock market, a good business was defined by only one thing: the bottom line. That required a different kind of executive, and American businesses got some real lulus.

We won't get this straightened out until we remember what we used to know, that the price of the stock will take care of itself if a company makes a good product. As I remember it, that used to work.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather