Fast Company

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.

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  • Christine Maingard

    So true. I too believe that the global economy will not recover the way it once was. I even believe that ultimately this will be a good thing. But people are strange creatures and don't learn from the past. So many lull themselves into this false sense of reality and a future than never can be like the past.

    What's more, we are living in a mad world. We chase after an imagined future that we never seem to be able to catch up with (how can we?). We have been trapped in some kind of thinking that a better and happier tomorrow is just around the corner if we only spend more money buying things we don't really need. And the more we look for this kind of happiness, the more we move into the opposite direction. Never before have so many people been afflicted by stress, excessive worry, anxiety and even depression.

    Large-scale global studies have revealed (what some of us have known all along) that we can be poor and happy and that being rich does not equate with happiness. Indeed, even poor countries fare considerably higher on the happiness scale than those living in developed Western countries.

    So perhaps when more people come realise that true contentment comes from within, through inner peace and wellbeing, then there might be a shift away from consumerism towards more sustainable economies (and ways of living). Will such a shift come about easily? Of course not. But it will happen eventually. It must!
    --
    Dr Christine Maingard
    Author of "Think Less, Be More"
    http://www.thinklessbemore.com