Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . py New Year!

This blog is the beginning of something. So are the four other civic media sites listed on the sidebar (I maintain the first two). Civic media, as I see it, is a dialogic and problem-solving use of media, not a kind of media. Its ongoing, problem-solving dialogs make citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in defining and solving the problems (and maximizing the opportunities) confronting a community of any size: local, state, national and international.

Today a single problem confronts us all: the global financial crisis. Over at the sidebar you will find a library of 40 finance writers who throw light on it. Taken together, they show very clearly how the wizards of Wall Street made the world of finance go round and round for twenty years until last summer, when the entire system finally spun out of control, corrupted by Wall Street or overstressed by investor demand for higher yields.

Most of these 40 writers saw the spinout coming AT LEAST TWO YEARS before any of the Wall Street wizards - or most anyone in the central banks that manage (and manufacture) the world's money supply.

Not surprisingly, these writers have useful insights as to how the global financial crisis can best be resolved. Among the problem solvers are Jack Bogle (article and book), Charles R. Morris (articles and book) and the amazing Steve Waldman. (Additions to the library are welcome. Kevin Phillips? Joe Stiglitz? David Korten? Doug Henwood?)

I sell residential real estate for a living. The Realtors at my office are bright and honorable. In May of 2006 I showed them Mike Hudson's "The New Road to Serfdom: an Illustrated Guide to the Coming Real Estate Collapse" from Harper's Magazine (at Hudson's site, scroll down to find the title).

My fellow agents. I love 'em. But they just laughed.

How things have changed. Today the National Association of Realtors is talking about the bursting of the housing bubble and how real estate will get back on track. And not doing a very good a job of it, either. But let's not digress.

America's recovery from its deflating housing market and its deepening financial crisis calls for an unprecedented partnership of citizens and government (arms-length will do just fine.) And also (dare I say?) a similar partnership between people with money and people without.

A civic media can mediate these partnerships. Its problem-solving dialogs can convey ideas like those advanced in this library to all Americans, including the least educated. Its ongoing dialogs can give Americans the chance to talk back, for weeks and months on end, until the nation, newly informed, gives Presidential Obama the informed citizen input he needs in order to make decisions that serve the best interests of America and its people.

Does all this - a media that brings out the best in our democracy instead of the worst - sound odd or impossible? It should not. Didn't Barack Obama win the 2008 election by promising BOTH of these partnerships, or something very close to them? Doesn't America already have in place the interactive communications technologies needed to mediate these partnerships? And isn't the need for these partnerships entirely obvious? Had they been in place ten years ago, would an informed America have allowed Wall Street or uncreditworthy borrowers to put the nation and the world at risk as they have?

So these partnerships, then, are possible. Still, questions remain. Will President Obama keep his promise? Will America's print and electronic media do their part to keep citizens and government productively in touch with each other? And finally, will all Americans, rich and poor, do their part to advance these new partnerships as well?

2009 will likely give us the answers. It will be a very interesting year. Even more interesting than 2008. Think about it. For the first time in history, 300 million people are poised to think and act intelligently, as a people and as a nation, about a single problem that threatens its future and that of the rest of the world as well. Wow. The psychologist Jung talked about the collective unconscious. Here we are talking about a collective conscious, an informed and active public mind. Thomas Jefferson, Marshall McLuhan and W. Edwards Deming would be glad to be alive. Not to mention Gandhi and Martin Luther King. And Plato, who wrote dialogs. And Socrates, who never wrote, out of a mistrust of writing's ability to make foolish men appear to be wise. But perhaps not Aristotle, who wrote monologs, as if (like the quants of Wall Street) he possessed or owned the truth, which the Platonic Socrates spoke of entirely differently: as an ongoing search for something that lies ever beyond us all.

How will all this happen? Hey, it's already happening. And let us resolve here to do what we can to advance the civic dialogs that will help us weather the storm. With that,

Hap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . py New Year!

PS - I almost forgot: what should we talk about next here?