Friday, October 14, 2011

The Financial Crisis: Threat, or Opportunity?

In a column for The New York Times published October 11th, 2011, Thomas L. Friedman has a very interesting take on what the Occupy Wall Street movement might indicate about our economic future:

"There are two unified theories out there that intrigue me," Freidman says.  "One says this is the start of 'The Great Disruption.'  The other says that this is all part of 'The Big Shift.'  You decide."

Real, sweeping change historically accompanies crisis; people change when they are forced to.  Friedman looks at the financial crisis via two perspectives.  The first Friedman describes as "The Great Disruption", which he's derived from a book of the same name by Paul Gilding, and it paints a very pessimistic view of our global economic future.  He quotes Gilding:

I see our economic growth, of ineffective democracy, of overloading planet earth - our system - is eating itself alive.  Occupy Wall Street is like the kid in the fairy story saying what everyone knows but is afraid to say: the emperor has no clothes.  The system is broken.  Think about the promises of global market capitalism.  If we let the system work, if we let the rich get richer, if we let the rich get richer, if we let corporations focus on profit, if we let pollution go unpriced and unchecked, then we will all be better off.  It may not be equally distributed, but the poor will get less poor, those who work hard will get jobs, those who study hard will get better jobs and we'll have enough wealth to fix the environment.

This contrasts with another perspective, which Friedman deems "The Big Shift", and he's influenced here by a book called The Power of Pull, by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown. This is a considerably more optimistic viewpoint:

In the early stages, we experience this Big Shift as mounting pressure, deteriorating performance and growing stress because we continue to operate with institutions and practices that are increasingly dysfunctional... Yet, the Big Shift also unleashes a huge global flow of ideas, innovations, new collaborative possibilities and new market opportunities.  This flow is constantly getting richer and faster.  Today, they argue, tapping the global flow becomes the key to productivity, growth, and prosperity.  But to tap this flow effectively, every country, company and individual needs to be constantly growing their talents.

This Big Shift would force the smartest people and businesses, the thinkers who are best adapted to the current climate, will be forced to adapt as normal people begin to have access to the same tools and information as the elite.  And in a free market, the ideas that will rise to the top will have to be even more innovative and even more useful and profitable than ever before.

So, two drastically different takes on our global economic situation.  Which do you prefer?


  1. I can only hope that the Big Shift is taking place. I want our country's capital to be tied in the innovation of our creative class (which I hope to become a member of in the near future), and not in the unsustainable wealth accumulation of our antiquated and unjust market capitalist system.

    I've read a bit of literature on this global shift toward idea assets, and though it doesn't reflect in our political rhetoric, Urban Planners sure have a clue, and a stretegic fight is being waged to keep the US cities competitive in this new age.