THIS WORLD of OURS
By Bob Harwood
Revising The Dream —
I perceive a glimmer of light breaking through the dark clouds of the current recession. Might radical changes in both personal and public priorities revamp The American Dream and new values transform societies everywhere? The prudence of the depression generation was succeeded by the unsustainable expectations of societies addicted to consumerism. Never paid off credit card balances accumulated at outrageous interest rates. Futures were mortgaged in anticipation of ever rising values of ever larger homes. In a grossly under regulated, short term oriented market deceptively packaged derivatives wrought global havoc.
But polls show Generation X on a different wavelength and Generation Y on alert. With unemployment soaring security concerns gain ascendancy over promotion, social net worth over financial net worth, family and friends over conspicuous consumption. As pensions erode there is a sense that one must provide one’s own safety net. More prudent personal planning is augmented by new perspectives on the public / private sector balance. Obama’s priorities stress broader access to education and health care and a focus on green industries and infrastructure investments for the future. Vying for the ideological or religious right is shifting to convergence on the center. On the same day veteran Republican Senator Arlen Specter defected to the Democratic party Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services over anti-abortionist’s protests. Endorsement of same sex unions is spreading.
Different criteria are steering career choices. Which industries are recession resistant? Is training for a trade in demand better than a general university degree? With Climate Change denial vanquished once and for all new jobs beckon there. The EPA’s labeling greenhouse gases a health hazard to be regulatedis spurring Congress to move quickly on this file. New energy sources and new emissions and efficiency standards foster new opportunities, new industries. Proximity to work in more modest housing is seen as right sizing, not down sizing. For others, an inter-generational shared home, the norm of a bygone era, is coming back. Enhanced public transit emulates a long established European ethos. Obscene corporate sector bonuses, executive private jetting and gas guzzling vehicles have become anathema to corporate images. Protecting the privileges of middle income highly unionized sectors is seen as less justifiedthan a more realistic minimum wage for the poorest. America is moving toward a balance long since achieved elsewhere.
And America is awakening to that world beyond its borders. On the world stage Obama is welcomed for a genuine engagement and dialogue after the unilateral arrogance of former times. With candor he apologizes for specific past American policies including the role that America played in causing the current economic crisis. This new perspective will help counter parochial cries for protectionism in a now irretrievably global economy where all are producers, all are consumers. The global economic drag of reduced consumerism here and outsourcing of traditional jobs can be more than offset by (a) a switch to high tech future jobs in the First World and (b) overdue modest increases in consumerism in emerging economies where billions can be lifted out of poverty. A new American ethos at home can play a major role in shaping a New World Dream.