What a strange and wonderful time we live in. Even as stocks crash through 8,000 and we contemplate a return to the 1930s, I see mounting rays of hope for the near future.

In 2008, we are witnessing the collapse of great pillars that have defined our world for three generations since the end of World War II.

That our nation has elected its first African-American, multi-racial, populist president, Barack Obama is one very meaningful symbol. People everywhere are now talking openly about the Commons – those institutions like health care, social security and the interstate highway system that most of us have long accepted as a benefit for everyone. Even as our economy flounders, we can imagine a world where no more aging bridges collapse into the Mississippi River[1], which is as real as it is a metaphor for our new age.

Banks as we have known them for many years are gone. Not just cut down to size or humbled. Gone. Hundreds of thousands of jobs designed to make money from money are gone. In today’s financial world there is no safe haven; even Warren Buffet’s conservative value-investing strategy is under siege.

What about the American auto industry? Congress voted yesterday to table discussion of any sort of bailout, offering no sympathy to the Big Three execs who smugly flew into DC on their private jets to beg for a handout. Now there is a very real possibility that the entire American auto industry will cease to exist in 2009. Yes, we are talking about perhaps millions of good jobs down the tubes, and the execs are using this as a big stick to scare taxpayers into submission. But what these execs aren’t talking about is Obama’s understanding that new American companies are poised to sweep in and hire many of these idled workers, truly greening the American auto industry in ways much more meaningful than simply out-engineering the Acura or even the Prius.

What’s possible?

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Moving on to the media, the major recession that we have surely entered will likely put a damper on flat-screen HDTV sales this holiday season. Will it be enough for the FCC to postpone the scheduled transition away from old TV technology next year? I don’t know, but this will be an interesting “canary” to keep an eye on.

In digital music downloads, the same companies that last year colluded to topple Apple’s iTunes from its leadership position are now coming back to offer Apple the same relaxed policies that Amazon and others currently enjoy[5]. As it sees old pillars collapsing everywhere, the music industry has accepted the inevitable truth that it must adapt or perish. This will finally legitimize and accelerate the move away from packaged CDs to profitable electronic music downloads. As a parallel, it is noteworthy that paper publications as diverse as PC Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor are going 100% paper-free in their distribution.

I could go on, but the message here is simple. Everything we know is wrong. This is just a satirical[6] way of acknowledging the obvious, that this odd confluence of politics and markets, society and technology has turned a major page in the history we’ll hopefully write and look back on in a most positive way.



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