It’s polar vortex day across much of the United States. Temperatures are plunging well below zero, close to the point where going metric doesn’t change a thing. It’s a day to stay inside and huddle, a day to not only be glad you’re still alive but wonder why you live where the air hurts your face.
It is not, however, a day to talk about climate change. These things just happen on a big continent with interesting geography. The same forces that water it and keep it green also create nasty weather patterns that can kill us all. It’s a big part of the North American experience, and it’s why people tend to migrate freely in this part of the world and have since humans first arrived.
So let’s talk about the Jet Stream again, and why this is just one of those things.
With the federal government open again, there’s a little less uncertainty in the economy. Things are back to normal and everyone is happy again. Right?
Unfortunately, the effects of the record shutdown are still hard to predict. As with any economic data, we won’t know until the quarter is over just what happened. We do have a few clues, however, and a few things that we can watch to know just where it’s going.
Leadership. There has been a lot of talk about it lately, or more to the point the lack of it. In common talk it is defined as “Doing or standing for the things I like” far more often than is useful.
There is a horrible lack of leadership everywhere in the developed world right now. Can anyone name a powerful nation with good leadership? Perhaps you can name a few businesses that have it, but not many. How about social leadership? Religious leadership? Are there more than a few people in rich nations anywhere who have a strong following that is capable of getting done what they want or need to?
Then again, the lack of leadership is hardly surprising. It is not about a charismatic figure that molds the masses to action – it’s about getting things done. That requires strategic thinking, and strategy is something horribly under-appreciated. I might chalk that up to excessive selfishness or a failure of moral character in our world, both of which are issues. But upon reflection, it seems to come down to a lack of understanding of what Strategy is and why it is important.
In a world connecting in new ways, it logically follows that some nations are working with great clarity and unity to make use of these connections for political goals. It is also reasonable that new tools for connecting the methods and message of these tools can be found to increase understanding and transparency for this process.
The book War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft by Robert D. Blackwill is important for many reasons, primarily in how it describes how economics can be used to move forward the political goals of developing nations. It is, however, very dense and at times difficult to follow. It is also, as its title suggests, centered on the Industrial National model of a previous generation.
Thank goodness the most relevant parts of this have been brought forward in a fabulous youtube production that is less of a TED talk and more of a quick graduate class.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.“
– The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I want to repeat this piece from five years ago exactly as it was then. Much is still true, even in this much darker moment of despair. We have a long road, and we are making progress. It’s slow, but it is true. The next generation will definitely do better.
At this time every year we have the same kind of conversation around the dinner table. My kids are growing up in a different world, one even more thoroughly defined by the struggles and triumphs of Dr. King’s generation than mine was.
But as they grow older, they see the work left to do more plainly. It is disheartening and difficult to watch those who once thought that the old black and white news film of dogs and firehoses was a document of a black and white history – a story of races and realities laid bare for history to pass its judgement. Now that they are in school they’ve seen and heard what racism is. The struggle is still alive, and every year more than just black and white.
Take a look around you. The routine of your life has probably coalesced into an arrangement of things – a computer or phone, a mug of tea, a table, a home. These are the things which make up your life. What defines any of them is not only what they are, but what they are made of. They are, themselves, a series of connections between created objects and molecules that make up your world.
What connects them all together in this moment is you.
While humans tend to see the world as a collection of things, what makes those things what they are, and indeed makes them at all, is how they are connected. What makes you is how you are connected as well – to these things, to other people, and to ideas which inform how you perceived them.
All anything is in this world, from the corporeal to the conceptual, is a series of connections.
Nine years ago, January 2010, was the bottom of what I’ve come to call the Managed Depression. Here is a piece from that time which is still relevant. At that time, we were awaiting a “recovery” and hoping for productivity gains to get us out of it. But they didn’t. And the core issues outlined here remain.
What would make a recovery sustainable? If you ask an economist, they’d tell you that what makes any economy grow and prosper is, ultimately, what they call “productivity gains”. That’s the ability to make more with less that allows a people to prosper. During the 1990s this was given as the reason why interest rates could remain low and we could have one Hell of a party – a sloppy, hazy bender. We live in the hangover that resulted, but have we really learned how intoxicating this one, simple idea is?