Saturday, June 26, 2010

Looking for little signs that mark the way to post consumerism.

As observation and positive feedback is rarely a bad thing, I am always looking for large and small signs that we are emerging from the economic doldrums in the direction I have predicted.

When I was much, much younger, I learned that you find interesting things when you turn over rocks and logs in the woods. I rarely look for the obvious with my head up.

Today is June 26, Hands Across the Sands Day. Saying no to continued offshore oil drilling and yes to renewable energy sources. The oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico might have awakened us. The former Shell Oil executive John Hofmeister’s book Why We Hate the Oil Companies, is a good example of a rock to turn over.

Mr. Hofmeister makes no bones, that extracting oil is a nasty dirty business, that most of us do NOT want to know about how it is done. We want our cars and heat and light, but we do not want to know where it comes from. The oil spill in the Gulf is forcing us to to take a hard look at our addiction to oil. Mr Hofmeister states that while many oil companies are interested in renewable sources for fuel for the personal mobility industry (cars), it is up to Government to make the hard decisions, (forced by we the people, my comment) and set the policies that will take us towards renewable energy.

We just might be seeing the start of a small shift in the government in reaction to our changing outlook.

In a past blog, I predicted that everything will become local again. That also means that we will see changes locally first.

In my small home town of a few thousand souls, we hold a few touristy type “fairs” each year. I attended one last weekend. The turn out was as good as ever, and the number of vendors seemed to be stable from years past. Those would be signs of a stable local economy. However under the surface I noticed something different.

Fewer non essential type vendors, more clothes sales, utility items, more “green” items, more cash sales, with fewer vendors accepting credit cards. I asked a few vendors, if they had used credit in the past and they said they had. I asked why they didn’t now. COST and return. They believed that the cost of offering the credit was greater than the return. So these smaller than small entrepreneurs have returned to a cash basis economy (they did accept checks).

The most recent indications to me that we are inching away from a credit and consumer based economy.

  • An awakening about the fossil fuel economy.
  • A change towards thoughtful purchase of useful items rather than impulse no need consumption.
  • Fewer credit card purchases.


Monday, June 14, 2010

The season of dashing our children’s hope!

Now that the college graduation season has just ended. it’s the season to dash the next generations hope.

I didn’t start out my work life in an academic career, I ended up there because of night of drinking (but that’s another story!)

For parents of recent graduates seeking careers in areas such as: global finance, international aid work, urban planning, architecture, sociology, history, etc., etc. and for teaching (this year). If we, the teachers, cannot perform simple mathematical equations, how can we expect our students to do the same.

If there are 500 corporations in the Fortune Five Hundred, how many CEO’s positions are available. 500 right!

How many business degree students do we graduate every year? In 2007/2008,  335,300 individual bachelors degrees in business were granted in the United States, that number does not count the tens of thousands of MBA granted.

Factoring that we graduate that many each year, and that CEO jobs come up about every five years or so, the realistic probability that your son or daughter will even get a chance to read that the CEO position has been filled for their Fortune Five Hundred CEO job sometime in their career is about .00007 or 7/1000 of 1 percent.

You can do the same math for most industries, and for many industries the question is not CEO positions, its just getting a job. In today’s economy, where approximately 50% of practicing architects are un or under employed, the chances of even finding a paying job as an apprentice architect are pretty slim.

I am not in the business of discouraging an individual’s hopes and dreams, but I am in the business of setting realistic expectations and goals for ourselves.

When I graduated from college with a Masters Degree in Engineering, I “hoped” to find a job (not a career) in the construction industry somewhere in the United States. I sent out 200 resumes, got three interviews, and then three job offers. I accepted the one with the best location: Flint Michigan. (The others were serious backwaters.) I was living in Massachusetts at the time, it was almost a 1000 mile move. I was happy to have work.

Yes, I know it was colder then, and we walked up hill both ways to school but: we as parents and educators have an obligation to encourage our children to reach high, but take a gentle slope, and for our children to be open to what opportunities the world presents them with (good and bad).

In our over enthusiasm, during the last decade, we have created a culture of unrealistic expectations for what the work place can bring us. For the most part, work is hard, mostly boring and does not pay much. The chance to strike it rich is still a possibility, but a small possibility. It is much more likely that we strike it rich by taking advantage of what is offered us and doing our best year over year. Seeking out opportunities for incremental advancement to our ultimate goals. Even with the recent disruption in the economy, incrementalism worked positively for many of my generation, and will work at for our children.

We need to remind ourselves and our children that our lives are incrementally lived and that we can continue to pursue our dreams as we stay open to new possibilities.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Some small prognostications

Change is coming, as it always does. Just look back 26 years. In 1984 Canon introduced the digital fax machine and everything changed. We began to expect perfect information instantly. Within a decade we had the internet, and now fax machines are becoming harder to find than an honest politician.

As I work more and more from home, I have become a little more conscious of some of the good things that technology is bringing, which help us to become less “thing” oriented. Just a few things: no more massive stereos; music is electronically downloaded not shipped and stored in piles of vinyl or acrylic; no more need to shop for stuff, you can do it on line, and not buying something is easier.

Things to expect to go away within a generation:

  • Books, bookstores and libraries (as we know them today).
  • Cash money and checks.
  • Wrist watches.
  • Music companies, CD’s or any non-internet delivery of music.
  • The US Post Office.
  • Land line telephones.
  • Keyboards of any kind (voice recognition is coming soon to you)
  • Broadcast television.
  • Free unfettered news.
  • Daily commuting to work.
  • Travel agents.
  • Real estate agents.
  • Investment advisors (no money no need!).
  • Garage door openers and other remote controls (replaced by iphones).
  • Nearly free internet and broadband access.
  • The desk top PC.
  • Privacy (already gone)

Things that we can expect to decrease as a part of of “self evaluation” factors

  • Constant travel. (It becomes a seldom used luxury).
  • New gasoline powered automobiles.
  • Useless consumption.
  • $8 Lattes.
  • Our real estate portfolios.

Things that will never go away

  • A good pair of shoes.
  • The little black dress.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Cats and dogs.
  • Beer, wine and whiskey.
  • Movie theaters or their descendants.
  • Death and taxes.
  • Sunrise and sunset.

This has been a fun game, and I will play it again some time.