Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Shock of the Future

Keynote addresses reason for optimism about Pierce County’s future in the post-neoliberal economy.

Glen Hiemstra, a Kirkland resident with strong ties to the South Puget Sound region, addressed the audience gathered at the Chamber’s 125th Annual Meeting. Hiemstra said the challenge before us is creating our preferred future from an economic present which has been demonstrated to be radically different from the recently imagined economy of the future.

Before delving into the future, Hiemstra drew our attention to the similarly radical changes during the turn of the previous century which witnessed explosive changes in technology and communications. For instance in 1884, the year the Chamber of Commerce began operating, Tacoma moved by foot or horse-drawn carriage. Average life expectancy in the United States was 45 to 47 years old. After-dark productivity required candle or lamplight. Yet, by the late 1920s the automobile had begun its explosive alteration of both the physical landscape and day-to-day commerce and behaviors of American society. Leaps in sanitation and medical care were accompanied by a steadily increasing lifespan. And, by the 1930s, only the most rural populations were left in the dark by sundown. As Hiemstra pointed out, the rapidity with which society has been able to transform itself is a major reason for optimism.

Hiemstra then turned his attention to the present, acknowledging the elephant-in-the-room discomfort that arises when discussing the financial turmoil of 2008-2009. Key elements in his how-we-got-here analysis included the astounding asymmetry in wealth created by certain profit-funneling aspects of the economy. This funneling has led to the ownership of more wealth by America’s top 10% than its bottom 90%. Hiemstra postulated that any system so unbalanced will eventually topple. Seen from his perspective, the events of 2008-2009 were an inevitable move toward adjustment. The question now, Hiemstra said, is “How do we rebuild a balanced economy that retains the fundamentals of free enterprise?”

This question shapes the future that Hiemstra envisions. He argued that we are witnessing a much-needed “economic reset” and pointed to a threefold silver lining. First, new jobless claims peaked in April of 2009. Although unemployment figures are still troubling, he pointed out that the trend line is indubitably decreasing. Second, most manufacturing indices have been on the upswing since mid-summer 2009. Third, the tech sector seems poised for some major breakthroughs, as exampled by Apple’s just reported record profits.

Hiemstra left us with three key words that describe tomorrow’s successful enterprise: smart, simple and sustainable. He gave several examples of the alive-and-well American entrepreneurial spirit, which is particularly well-represented here in the Puget Sound region.

Guest Blogger: Arabie Jaloway, TacomaACTS Coordinator

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