Monday, January 17, 2011

How Pragmatic Is America?

My 2011 began with a 2-alarm fire down the street a scant two hours into the new year.
Tucson's 2011 began with a horrific and senseless attack on a Congresswoman and a group of innocent bystanders who'd come to participate in democracy.
For governors around the country 2011 has begun with the realization that the cupboard is empty.
For individuals and families around the country, the empty cupboard isn't a metaphor. It's every day reality.
The recession that was triggered by financial corruption and rampant economic dishonesty is dragging on. There are signs of recovery: huge corporate profits that so far haven't translated into new hiring. But there are more signs of trouble ahead. Paul Krugman's piece in the Sunday New York Times magazine points out the problems still afflicting Europe and the possibility of national defaults by more than one member of the EU. Incoming governors in the U.S. are taking different tacks in their response to state-level economic crises. Some are cutting government services to the bone, other raising taxes. The predominant metaphor is "right-sizing" government to the times we're in. So far, only Dave Bing, the mayor of Detroit, has taken this metaphor literally and has adopted a plan to physically shrink his city to fit the down-sized population that now lives there.
A two-year recession will take its toll. On budgets, on hopes. So much of economics, and by extension society, is emotional. Despite the "rational man" theory of economics, how we feel determines how we act, how we treat each other, how we invest, how we share.
At the start of 2011, it's fair to ask, what will be the "geist" of our "zeit"?
I'm hoping for pragmatism. It's an essential American quality, something that always stood us in good stead when times were tough in the past.
What really works? Let's take a look at empirical evidence.
The states are about to return to their time-honored role as the laboratories of democracy.
Enough ideology about taxes and spending.
Different states are taking different paths. Let's see what actually works. What brings about economic recovery. What inspires new business development. What generates a spirit of community and sharing.
Let's look at businesses and how they go about their work.
What companies are able to go beyond profits to produce real value--economic and social? What industries harness innovation in the service of both economic rejuvenation and social cohesion?
Where do we find new social entrepreneurs who can provide fresh solutions to old problems? Are there grass-roots leaders whose creative problem-solving can point us toward new ways of looking at troubling social concerns by bringing entrepreneurial thinking into the public realm?
What works. Small fixes for big problems. Petri-dish size solutions that can start us toward real improvements and real results.
We used to call it Yankee ingenuity.
Today it's solutions that work for problems that matter.
Let's make 2011 the year we return to that old American virtue.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb