One of my favorite facets of reading two books a week is getting to look at familiar things through authors different lenses. We each perceive the objective world subjectively and attribute different meanings to what we filter selectively. As I mentioned in my review of Philip Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles, my own lenses often challenge those I'm looking through as I see the world through an author's eyes.
I did not have this problem last week as I read The Great Reset by Richard Florida. Perhaps because I was originally trained to be an architect, I have, through my own lenses, a sense of space, land use, regional differences and geographic dimensions to demographics. I found Richard Florida's lenses very compatible with my own. I found his read of variations in unemployment, housing prices, population migrations all fascinating. He's known for his identification of pockets of innovation among a "creative class" of individuals living and working in close proximity. He anticipates that the next economy will function with less industry and more creativity.
Here's some of what I've learned from this thought provoking and insightful book:
The US has been through several recent decades of what I've called mere "innovation for show" that has not produced a bounty of jobs, trade balances or tax revenues. This has resulted in massive debt, excessive materialism and a widening gap between rich and poor. We're awash in insignificant innovations among handhelds, GPS in cars and software, but nothing like the introduction of steam, gasoline, electric or nuclear power within the last century. We need to stop getting distracted by incremental improvements and create hundreds, even thousands, of game-changers.
Some portion of any local workforce provides the illusion of economic stability. This population works to expand the community. There are roads to build with signage, utilities to install and hookup, construction supplies to inventory and sell, as well as structures to construct and furnish. When steady growth occurs, these people have steady jobs which then spawns a support system of shops, restaurants, banks, schools, health care facilities and the like. Their steady employment verifies their credit worthiness to take out mortgages on houses, leases on vehicles and loans on everything else. It provides more steady pay checks for those in this expanded support system. The instant the growth stops, this entire portion of the economy collapses like a house of cards. We need to recognize this illusion of stable employment as different from employment that merely contracts without collapsing during zero-growth phases of an economy.
The locations of jobs move around a lot. An economy thrives when the workforce is sufficiently mobile to go where the jobs are. We've crippled the economy for the past two decades by idealizing home ownership. This has curtailed the mobility of the workforce. Driving to the opposite side of a metropolitan area for a job merely increases traffic congestion, carbon footprints and dependency on foreign oil. Settling for stagnant or under-employment "near the house" shortchanges the individual and the economy. We need to migrate to renting instead of owning, pedestrian scaled enclaves and mass transit.
I found all this to be very valuable for sharpening our expectations about what can emerge from the global recession as the next economy.