Friday, September 19, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid

Margaret Mead famously said (perhaps even on this blog before), "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Normally, we trot out ol' Marge to inspire us to achieve great things in the face of adversity. Climbing Everest, launching an inner city education program, joining the Peace Corps, that sort of thing.

But lately I've realized that her quote is also incredibly relevant in far more nefarious circumstances such as the rather alarming financial crisis we've witnessed in the last few weeks. Who knew a small group of mortgage retailers, committed to profiting through exotic lending practices, could profoundly change the entire global economy? And yet the situation has snowballed from several thousand people defaulting on their mortgages to the ruinous collapse of venerable institutions, the government buyout of the world's largest insurance company AIG and the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history (Lehman Brothers, founded in the 1840s by a group of Jewish immigrants from Bavaria was purchased by Barclays in a move that probably saved us all from an even greater tailspin).

Amidst tremendous fear-mongering and one of the worst days in the stock market's history, I genuinely hope I have found some silver lining. Since the 1980s, the United States has coasted into a pretty comfortable position on the world economic scene. We rose to our zenith of power and grew haughty, satisfied, complacent. What we sacrificed for the seat on the throne was the potent brain inside the crown. At one point in history, the American mind drove progress. Now that too has been outsourced.

Perhaps this crisis holds a blessing inside. As the old ways prove problematic, we innovate. When we have nothing left to lose, we are not afraid of failure and we take the dramatic risks that are often required to truly shift how business is done. Call it shakabuku, "the swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever." Call it market correction. Personally, I call it the necessary wake-up call America has been waiting for since Roger and Me.

I don't know if the amazing discovery will come from the emerging green collar workforce, a public university lab or some kid's basement. All I know is if our country is as great as the candidates want me to believe, then a pretty remarkable fucking change can't be far away.

No comments: