Sunday, July 19, 2009

The American Dream just turned into a Nightmare

This might be news to some, but there are many who feel that there is something happening to our economy besides just the current recession. I truly think that the word depression more aptly describes our current situation. But for now I will stick to the word, recession because it is softer and more acceptable.
There is a school of thought that postulates that our economy is undergoing some sort of massive transition. Jeff Jarvis from BuzzMachine writes:

In the financial crash, we are seeing two forces at work: first, a corrupt system of unregulated leverage gone mad — virtual value (which is to say, bullshit) created in derivatives — but second, a world whose fundamental structure is changing in ways we can’t yet fully fathom.

In “What would Google Do?” Jarvis believes our pre-crash economic system will be replaced by a system based on “information and abundance.” What exactly this new economy will look like is any ones guess at this point. The fact that our technology is growing exponentially makes predictions even more difficult. Who would have thought a year ago that a mobile social networking tool (Twitter) would be relied upon by network news to transmit on the ground real time coverage of the recent elections in Iran? Our ability to deliver information is certain to grow and evolve in ways that we now cannot imagine. I carry with me everyday a device that allows me to communicate and access information that would have been just a dream just a few short years ago. What ever system replaces our pre-recession economy, it will certainly have rapid and continuous change as a part of its makeup.

In my mind, our current recession/transition is a perfect storm of events and evolution. The economy that existed before the recession was an economy stuck in the past and was perpetuated by banking/corporate/governmental control. The world and the world’s technology were changing and our pre-recession economy was not allowed to evolve in ways that would have softened the transition that we are currently going through. So when the crash of our totally antiquated and fatally flawed economic system finally happened, there was a backlog of problems, jobs and industries that had not even begun to change.

The results of this backlog are all around us today. Who would have thought whole industries would need to be severely downsized and/or restructured? The automotive and newspaper industries are the first of many to feel the searing pain of massive change. Many more industries are sure to follow.

Of course the real losers in this high stakes game that is being played out are the workers. The everyday, go to work, play by the rules workers, who for years (sometimes many years) did everything right to be employed in good paying jobs. Millions will find that the industries that they spent their lives training for or working in, no longer exist. They are as outdated as the industries and jobs that they worked in. So we have a situation where millions of workers need to be reeducated and changed to fit the jobs of an evolving new economic system. We need to provide these workers with the tools to “remake” themselves. How we do this is any ones guess? Many low skilled and already economically disadvantage workers may not be able to adapt to what is coming. We may have to accept a number of workers as “lost causes” and provide support indefinitely to them.

The highly skilled and educated among us, who now or will soon find themselves jobless are faced with the daunting challenge of “reeducating and remaking” themselves, while they attempt to downsize their lives to fit the realities of the new world. Lives that were built and then sustained by the old system are not easily changed. Everything they worked for (houses, cars, toys) was being sustained by a economic system that no longer exists. The adjustment to this reality is nothing less than a generational psychological trauma.

The American Dream just turned into a nightmare. Playing by the rules and doing what you are told no longer means a path to the white picket fence house and two cars in the garage. There will be fewer routes to guaranteed success. The future will belong to those who can adapt, reeducate and remake themselves. The future will require us to leave the past completely behind.

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