Sunday, March 8, 2009

Musings: Opportunities

I was tired, so I almost went back to sleep when the dawn light started to fill my bedroom this morning, but Koko was keen to go out walking, so we did, and I was glad, or I would have missed the opportunity to catch up with my neighbor Andy — and score two grapefruit in the process — see Waialeale flush green as the sun rose, her summit lightly gilded with clouds, watch the mist float through the pastures, walk in a shimmery golden rain.

So, too, some folks — President Obama among them — are viewing the current lean times as an opportunity, despite all the doom and gloom dished out daily by the dailies and broadcast news. In his weekly radio address Obama noted:

"We've experienced great trials before," Obama said. "And with every test, each generation has found the capacity to not only endure, but to prosper — to discover great opportunity in the midst of great crisis. That is what we can and must do today. And I am absolutely confident that is what we will do."

I know that one of Obama’s many jobs is to rally a shell-shocked, dispirited nation that is watching the collapse of life — at least, the stuff-driven kind — as they’ve known it. But he’s not the only one looking on the bright side. Every day I talk to folks, including some who have lost jobs and are facing home foreclosures, and they invariably speak of this cloud’s silver lining.

It’s an opportunity to regroup, they say, to embrace simplicity, to pursue an existence based on values rather than things, to regain some balance in their lives, to step off the treadmill for a while and reassess. Many talk about wanting to find a job they feel passionate about, work that’s meaningful, not just a way to make money. In short, even though they’re feeling the crunch in some way financially, they’re not despondent. They feel like the ship not only needs to be tightened, but its course reversed.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman addressed this phenomenon this morning in a column that Dawson kindly brought to my attention:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

Now regular readers of this blog will recognize this as a sentiment I share, and while it’s sometimes dismissed as fringe Luddite thought, I don’t believe that’s true, at least, not any more. The column goes on:

“Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption.”

“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

I read news reports in which analysts and economists struggle to decide whether we’re in a Depression, a “Great Recession” or a “prolonged episode of economic stagnation,” as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake calls it. But maybe all those phrases, and the responses and reactions they illicit, are outdated, no longer relevant.

The current global economic situation, with its interwoven markets and free trade agreements and strange new breed of financial instruments, is unlike any that’s ever existed before. Now we’re watching it make a dramatic adjustment, if not totally collapse. It seems that “The Great Disruption” — and all the paradigm shifting opportunities it entails — is an apt new moniker for the times.


Anonymous said...

and it is a great opportunity to expand, and many people are. is it fair that one person's fear is another person's gain?

Anonymous said...

Fair to whom? The methods that the elite and powerful have long used to extract gain for themselves and their affines have created large amounts of many things, fear among them -- none of them functional, sustainable or pleasant.

Anonymous said...

that sounds all cloak and dagger

i was thinking of the panicked kid selling his GE stock to me for $7/share

but now that i am part of the elite, can i still wear sandals?

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to observe and remark on what might be happenning. It's quite another to root for it so an agenda can be Kunstler or other neoLuddites.

Unknown said...

Interesting idea... Coincidentally, I read today that sales of "Atlas Shrugged" are rising.

But if the current economic problems are fundamentally different from before, I don't think they could be so easily explained by traditional problems ("irrational exuberance"). Crashes like this are a natural part of many physical systems.

Anonymous said...

> that sounds all cloak and dagger <

Right. All those complaints of corporate malfeasance and Ponzi-like derivatives and regulatory dysfunctionality are just a bunch of rumors and paranoia.

Anonymous said...

na na. rock on w/ that

people like you made possible my $52/share AIG buy and $65/share sale in '05 when everybody thought it was another enron/worldcom (which, ironically, in a way, it was, but via bad judgment that came to a head years later as opposed to naked fraud)

i criticize not your heart, but rather simply note how your attitude when magnified and acted upon can create the opportunities you seemingly dislike others seizing

and greed is relevant. i got burned on DRYS...nobody to blame but myself

otherwise, i trust all would agree the objective perspective is esp important in times like these