Saturday, October 30, 2010

It Won't Be That Fast Again. And that's OK.

Everyone feels it. It's not just the recession, extended perhaps by policy decisions but destined to join the past late if not sooner. It's more. We feel in our guts things can't be as they were. The last thirty years were an unsustainable and unrepeatable time. It will be a slower decade--and probably longer or forever.

That doesn't mean it won't be better. It will.

We've been explosive builders these past thirty years. 11,000 Starbucks just in the US. Chickfilla's and Verizon centers, Borders and Lowes, Old Navys and Staples all to go with them. Every sizable community has had its downtown duplicated at the city limits by a shopping center it's equal in size.

We've remade the downtowns as well. Look at yours. Drive to the next city. And the next. If you're 20, you won't know it didn't mostly always look that way. If you can remember 1990, didn't.
We've totally rehabilitated our urban neighborhoods. Smaller wooden structures that were unrepairable we tore down and replaced. Yet most homes of any character were restored and enhanced.

Our neighborhood shops went from abandoned, boarded up, or seedy stalls to quaint or glamorous boutique shops. Some of them got Starbucks. Some were filled with the exotic goods of the world. All were filled with curious, engaged, cash-laden patrons. We're wondering now about that latter.
We've built arenas and stadiums and museums of every imaginable field. They are huge, extravagant. beautiful. And we're wondering about the debt, and how long til we can afford to build again.
We're worried about much more than debt, though. We worry about an aging population. A changing population. A changing world that has noticed our system, imitated it, and now seriously competes.

Can we, too, still compete? Can we go head to head with the Asian engineers, the Indian support teams, the Central American laborers, the world's cheap manufacturing labor? The ruthlessly efficient robots and machines? 

Must we lose our hard-earned luxuries to so do?

And what about the Muslim evangelists? Do they threaten the foundations, values, traditions we've built up from? 

Ah, and there's the rub. Did some of us forget those core

We might lose some of that breathless excitement. We're all used to caramel mochiato expresso cherry frape surprise. It's just a caffeine fix now. Where's that feeling of youthful thrill?

The thrill that's with the youth? It's in those digital boxes, and it's in the world. Yes, many of us reached out and touched the world these past two decades, and were touched by it. We'll be doing that a whole lot more.

We are drifting back--or forward--to the one room schoolhouse. For many students it's now the kitchen table, the family computer desk. For others its a tutoring center next to Starbucks. For still others its a small neighborhood charter school, the kind of schools community progressives built and ran back at our founding, the kind of personal attention you get when moms and dads kick into the pot to buy their own building and teacher.

Which raises our fears of lives spent staring at 20" portholes. Or smaller. Much smaller. Many of us did that for long work hours, but were amply rewarded. What about that gnawing competition from abroad, that increasingly well-educated and well-connected workforce outside?

What about our debts and maintenance commitments? Our no longer pricey houses and our still pricey mortgages and upkeep bills?

And age. Our nation is aging. Baby boomers are retiring, moving into takers, not producers. Who will pay, care, cover for them? Our pension/retirement/healthcare systems seem actuarial unsound; maybe unsustainable.

Is the gig up? Have we built all we can build, borrowed all we can borrow, promised what we cannot deliver, come to the end of the age of Camelot?

I say no. For now, though, a volleyball scrimmage.

Meanwhile, one hint: those brown people knocking at our door, the ones already hear, hiding from the books and the law? We need them paying taxes, insurance premiums, mortgages payments. We need them buying our homes. We need them filling nursing and care positions. We need them as engineers.

More to come....

1 comment:

James Morgan - Puritan Financial Advisor said...

Baby boomers are retiring, moving into takers, not producers.