Change. People say they want it. Nobody really likes it. Everyone is sure they are not getting it. Yet it seems obvious that there is a great deal of change going on. From the negative perspective your house, if you own one, is worth a lot less than it was a year and a half ago. Close to 4 out of 10 of us in the United States are obese and the number is steadily rising. 2 out of 10 adults who want a full time job in this country don’t have one.
But that’s not the change we wanted. We wanted good change. Okay, there’s a lot of that as well. Paul Stamets has discovered ways in which mushrooms can be used to clean up pollution, kill unwanted insects and cure disease. Bruce Lipton tells us that the placebo effect, where patients get well as the result of intention rather than pharmaceuticals is at least as effective as medical intervention. Nassim Haramein offers us a peer reviewed theory of singularity that changes our current conceptions of the universe.
Okay, that’s all interesting stuff but it wasn’t really what we had in mind. We want something more immediate, something that impacts our lives right now in a positive way. Even though Stamets, Lipton, Haramein and others are pointing us towards ideas and inventions that will affect us in fundamental ways, they seem of little consequence in the immediate moment.
We should note that some of the desire for change has been channeled into what we might call a growing “no change” movement. These are folks who want to go back to a point in time where their lives were not interfered with by the government. It’s unclear when that actually was but one of the core beliefs of this group is that any move towards collectively addressing social problems is a terrible mistake. Still, even in this group we can find a desire for something other than what we are experiencing now.
It was only a little more than a year ago when a large majority of the country had a very positive view of what change could mean. We had elected a President who held out a vision of a new way of politics, one in which a broad range of views could be accepted and crafted into policies based on consensus rather than contention. The reality of the political process dominated by the influence of money has dispelled that vision, but the desire for something fundamentally different in our experience has not gone away. It is almost as if the event of Obama’s election will always be more powerful and important than anything that his administration could accomplish.
We are left with that central question that many of us have such difficulty in answering – what is it that we want? Over the last several decades we have explored answering this question by itemizing the amount of money that we want to accumulate and the quantity of things it could buy. That’s not to say that some of us aren’t perseverating on that path, but the continuing economic crisis has caused many of us to re-evaluate that approach.
Gerald Celente of the Trends Research Institute has built a reputation as someone who has a good track record of identifying future events. We can find him on a variety of media outlets predicting political instability, tax revolts and food riots. What is often omitted is his prediction that we are entering a time of civility in our discourse and quality in our products and services. This will occur not because it is a good idea or because it is something that we should do. It will occur because a significant number of people decide that it is what they want – it is the change that they want.
It is notable in this context that last week the automobile company with perhaps the best reputation for quality, Toyota, announced the second largest recall in history for an accelerator pedal problem and then followed it up a few days later by revealing that they had a braking problem with the very popular hybrid Prius model. It turns out that they had known about the braking problem and corrected it in the newer models but left the older ones on the street without alerting their customers. One can only imagine the meetings in which that decision was made.
We don’t have to look very far to find other examples of companies and governmental institutions that put their own short term benefit above those who buy their products or elect them to represent their interests. The cynic would say that this is just more of the same. People will put up with it because they have to – there is no alternative. Certainly that has been the case in the past. It is the wise organization that questions whether it will be the case in the near future.
We live in a very different world than we did just ten years ago. We all know that the Internet has spawned countless groups of people who are communicating and collaborating in ways that were impossible a short time ago. We are also living in a time when those economies that we used to classify as emerging have now actually emerged and they are developing products and services that originate out of their own intellectual resources rather than depending on the old established economies for ideas and outsourced jobs. For many of us it is as though we are still driving on streets that used to be one way but the signs have been taken down and the traffic is moving in both directions.
Change was happening before we asked for it. The longer we delude ourselves that profit is the goal of economic activity rather than an index of the quality of a product or service the more we will frustrate ourselves in achieving the change we say we want. Quality is no longer a “nice-to-have” or a slogan to provide misdirection from the underlying strategy of planned obsolescence. Economics is really just another discipline that defines the way that we relate to each other. It changes when we change – not the other way around.