Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Mindsets for a New Economy: "Rectitude Chic"

In last weekend's Wall Street Journal, there was a column by Peggy Noonan called "Rectitude Chic." Here's a couple of paragraphs that got me thinking:

For a generation we've been tapping on plastic keyboards, entering data into databases, inventing financial instruments that are abstract, complex and unconnected to any seeable reality. Fortunes were made in the ether, almost no one knows how; there's a sense that this was perhaps part of the problem. Workers tapped on keyboards and produced work they cannot see, touch or necessarily admire. They'd like to make their country better, and stronger, in a way they can see....

There's something else going on, a new or renewed sense of national shame. Or communal responsibility. Or a sense of reckoning. Whatever it is it's a reaction to the excesses of the O's, a reaction against the ways of those who caused the mess on Wall Street and Main Street. It is a reassertion that there actually are rules, and that it is embarrassing to break them in a way so colorfully damaging and destructive to everyone else.

Do you think this is true? Do you feel like people are thinking differently about large scale issues these days, and questioning things in different ways? Perhaps people other than the editorial writers of the WSJ might have been more inclined to have that sense of national shame before now, but have these undercurrents now boiled over?


Gord said...

I think people now in their 20's and 30's, who have been on the leading edge of all the new technologies are questioning their role. We have never been busier as a society and in this economic breather, they are wondering where the meaning is in their lives. Have I been part of the problem? Can I be part of the solution? My generation did much the same in the sixties, and then eventually became today's stockbrokers, lawyers and leaders. Ironic.

Kate said...

I don't know. I haven't seen much of this newly chic collective shame. It might be a good thing, if it's really happening. I suspect that collective anger might be more plausible. A lot of people who did the right things are left holding the bag (bailout debt, falling real estate value, decimated retirement accounts) for those who didn't do the right thing.

Sure, excess consumption, ponzi scheme investment, the real estate flipping game, and absurd levels of consumer debt got us to this point. But not everyone played those games. Where's the shame for those people?

Anonymous said...

I feel that only WSJ writers have that kind of insights. Most people I personally know, see this as a temporary problem. They expect business as usual by 2010.

Many people pick stocks by looking at the graphs, astrology or what not. I don't see how it will be completely changed. You can see it in Tokyo Nikkei or Hong Kong Hang Seng. It went through "change" in late 90s, but it got "normal" within few years.

It will happen again because there is money to be made, and there will always be people taking risks.

Nothing fancy to think of .. said...

I don't think it is necessarily a part of the recession that is making people take stock of their lives, I think it has to do with a point in their lives. Individuals think about their lives from time to time and they come to some realizations. One of them as to do with what "mark" are they going to leave on this planet. If you do construction, you made a road or building. If you do journalism, and spend all day writing words, what lasting effect do you have?

I am in IT and at the end of the day, it is hard to see what my job does at the end of the day. I know my company would fail without my job being done, but what does that matter to the world in a whole? You cannot touch your output (unless you print it), and you cannot taste or smell it (unless you smell toner), so I did "nothing". People as they age want to leave something behind, which is why I want to grow grapes on a vineyard when I am done with the rat race.

Here is the rub of the information age. We are merely one person who pushes the boulder up the hill. We push as long as we can, until we move to the next one. Someone else takes that boulder and pushes it the next distance until they are replaced. In the information age, we are replaced quickly, and our entire output/deliverable is all information (wrapped nicely and input properly into a computer). So, where does that leave us?

Anonymous said...

I started wondering a couple years ago, why do company profits need to always be growing? Why can't a company get to a place where they can say "we are big enough, our profits are good enough". In a small family business, or for an individual entrepreneur, this can actually happen. But not in corporate America. The only two things that are programmed to keep growing for the sake of just getting bigger are publicly traded corporations and cancer.

Me... said...

I think the 'average' people are seeing things differently. They are definitely reacting and changing their ways.

But those people that caused all this? No. I don't think they care to see things differently. I don't think they feel shame. They are still spending the money they made, and still trying to make more.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea that someone is suggesting people are thinking this way, and maybe some low level employees are at ground zero, but I see no evidence of this in the general population.

We may be on the edge of thinking like this, but we haven't experienced enough pain yet for us to think like this as a nation.

We had finally forgotten all the lessons taught by the Great Depression and now we have to relearn them. Finance 101 was taught in 2008 and Advanced Super Kickass Finance will be taught in 2009. One can only hope we learn quickly.

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