Overcoming Our Economic Despondency

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Overcoming Our Economic Despondency
According to the pollsters taking the temperature of Americans, the U.S. economy is a long way from a healthy recovery. A 2012 Gallup poll revealed that 68 percent of Americans knew someone who had lost a job.1 A Gallup poll the previous year found that 55 percent of Americans didn't think their children would live as well as they did; that was the worst rate in the history of the survey.2 The reasons for the pessimism are all too familiar:
  • High unemployment, which stands at 6.7 percent—but rises to 11 percent when those who are underemployed or who have given up looking for work are counted.
  • Poor return on investment for increasingly unaffordable higher education costs.
  • Rising prices for healthcare, food, and fuel.
  • Foreclosures and underwater mortgages as a result of the bursting of the housing bubble.
However, it's critical to look at the economy, and at the average American's quality of life today, in the proper context. That context must include an understanding of techno-economic paradigms. (As explained previously in Trendsand in Ride the Wave, we're now in the midst of the difficult transition from the first half of the Digital Revolution to the second.) As is always the case during such a transition, the policies and structures of the old paradigm no longer work in the new world.
Specifically, many people are still clinging to the "conventional wisdom" of the Mass Production era, in which businesses and individuals succeeded by:
  • Serving mass markets with standardized products and services.
  • Organizing labor (which often involved working with machines in factories) into unions.
  • Requiring both employers and employees to honor conventional employment arrangements, such as 40-hour workweeks, shared workspaces, and long-term loyalty to the organization.
Today, these approaches are no longer aligned with the realities of the 21st century economy. Success now depends on:
  • Customizing products and services to niche markets and to the increasingly demanding and enlightened individual consumer.
  • Unshackling employees from both unions and employers so the workers with the skills that are in the greatest demand are free to take their talents to the highest-paying companies.
  • Granting people autonomy over their work and their careers so they can set their own work schedules, and work from any location rather than in an office.

Looked at in this way, the unemployment rate—and the poll that showed that more than two-thirds of Americans know someone who lost a job—is not a symptom of a stagnant economy, but rather the predictable result of creative destruction...

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