Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

The Economy Won't Recover Unless You Do it

The economy will never recover. Not the way it once was. It just can't. This is neither bad nor good: it's just different. And different is the hardest thing to swallow, because people hate change.

 

Since large portions of my day are spent in front of a computer, I have the luxury of listening to  talking heads debate the economy. It is the nature of talking head programs to feature one person on the "pro" side of every issue and one person on the "con."  The pro people feel like Obama has turned it around. They cite the rise in consumer spending, and the fall in layoffs, the apparent stabilization of real estate prices and a small upturn in housing starts. The con people point to an unemployment rate of 9.7%, an inability of older people in the workforce to retire, and rising commodity prices. Neither side of the equation is in the trenches; they have jobs.  They're paid to pontificate.

 

I see the people. I work across several segments of the economy and I can see both good and bad. The good is where it always is: in dreams and starts and innovations. The bad is in waiting for the economy to turn around.

 

My local economy is awful, as municipalities cut services and the state cuts education and health care, therefore losing us more jobs. My perception of the national economy is that it is still very bad, because housing is still in the doldrums, and when it's in the doldrums nationally, people can't sell their homes and move to Phoenix, which depends on growth to exist, or to California, where they still can't afford to live. People are stuck in place, in jobs they never expected to have, like walking dogs or writing for Demand Media, or unloading boxes.

 

So why are consumers spending? The consumer drives the American economy, and the consumer hasn't come to terms yet with the loss of wealth that just happened. The stock market has gone up, so people now feel they have gotten "rich" again. They want to think they have. But they haven't, because they still don't have good jobs, a living wage, safe investments, or home equity. The consumer will get the bills and quit spending again.

 

In my little corner, the entrepreneurial community, no one is kickin' ass and taking names, but people are surviving and starting businesses all the time They have a vision to keep them gong that consists of more than "benefits." In a climate like this, it's much more satisfying to have a mission, like clean tech or connecting the world, than to have making money as your goal. The "make money" people, in real estate, are truly suffering. It's not going to be easy to make money in America for a long time.

 

Entrepreneurs are more used to lean years than people with "good" jobs, and they tend to roll more with the punches. Creative geeks don't care much about money anyway; they work for fun, freedom and the challenge of solving big problems,  and just try to keep body and soul together. So in one of my circles, people are poor, but still happy. In the other, real estate, they are wiped out, not only financially, but emotionally. For them, it was about mortgages in the last bubble: getting them, taking them on, investing in them, selling them and securitizing them. It wasn't even really about real estate.

 

It wasn't about anything real.

loading