It’s happening. Economies are changing. People are changing. Change is happening. Even people with jobs and a bit of discretionary income are changing, or preparing to change. They know that assumptions about economies, currencies, and careers are very likely to change. That’s why something else is happening. At the end of this month there will be a “collaborative program”, “a convening of change agents working toward a new economic and social paradigm.” The first Money & Life event is being held at the Whidbey Institute. (A collaborative program of New Road Map and Whidbey Institute.) Even the concept of convention versus seminar versus workshop is changing. This is a new kind of event, and that’s appropriate because we are entering a new kind of world.
Have you noticed the change? It isn’t 1952 anymore.
Okay, allow me to back off a little bit. “A new kind of world” does not mean colonizing space (but sign me up for that discussion!). The new world we are entering is the new economic world. How can people change their lives to respond to the financial and social upsets we’ve encountered? If enough people change their lives, then society has changed. What’s that new society look like? This is a new kind of event because no one can stand before the rest and say that they’ve been there and have all the answers. We are building the answers together. And if we succeed we will create a new kind of world. We’ll definitely create a new society. And we’ll probably change our physical world. I doubt that we’ll change planets, but we’ll probably treat this one a lot better.
I’ll be there. I even get to co-host one of the talks about Individual Investor Advocacy, one arm of change that is like a tug throwing a rope over the bow of a container ship and trying to change its course. It works if done right. Others will talk about less corporate topics: Shifting Social Welfare Institutions, Tuning into Collective Wisdom, Indigenous Economics, etc. The key, as I understand it, is that those of us who show up are collaborators, equals, people who are actively engaged in change and who have something to give and something to gain. We are all expected to learn from each other. Podiums and pontifications happen elsewhere.
Regular readers know of my situation. I guess the post, Am I Financially Independent, is the quickest primer for those just recently finding this blog. My situation has made me acutely aware of the stable and unstable elements of the economy. Instead of listing them all I think of the changes in terms of thirty year mortgages.
Back in 1982 someone took out a mortgage and dutifully paid every month. How much has changed since then? Today my house is on the market for $291,000. Fifteen years ago it was about half that, $157,000. Seven years earlier it was closer to $100,000. In 1982 it was probably much cheaper. So housing prices are up. That’s not a surprise; but the world in 1982 was familiar with double digit inflation, double digit interest rates (a great time to buy bonds in retrospect), the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction, acid rain, ozone holes, the resurgence of America in space, and a young guy named Tom Trimbath heading back to college to get his masters in aerospace and ocean engineering. Personal computers were brand new. Arpanet, the predecessor to the Internet, was still alive. Reagan was President. Everyone remembered Watergate. Thirty years ago it was hard to buy stock without an expensive broker and research required visits to the library. Single digit interest and mortgage rates, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the retiring of the space shuttle without a replacement, and me becoming an artist and consultant were unimaginable.
None of us know where we will be in thirty years. Thirty year financial plans are extrapolations that quickly become academic. Currencies, shorelines, national identities, corporations may all change by 2042. What do we do if food or fuel become more scarce? Within thirty years technology will change enough to be unrecognizable. (If you really want to contemplate the extremes read The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil.) I pity any sci-fi writer who is trying to write about 2042. If it takes them three years to write the book then we’ll be 10% of the way there. I don’t even want to have to guess what cell phones will be like in three years.
What we do know is that there is a general feeling that things will change because we’ve lived through change and have witnessed its acceleration.
Earlier this week I was talking with a client about security. Back when I was a millionaire I researched most of the financial instruments and how they’d survived through history. I learned that perfect security is an illusion. My recent life has helped prove that. Currencies can crash. Assets frozen. Every financial instrument had a moment when it failed. Bad luck happens. But of course it makes sense to strive for that security because doing something increases the odds of sustainability. But there are no guarantees.
I’m hearing a lot more from people who finally understand their basic needs are food, shelter, etc., not what they see in the ads. They are living within normal society, commuting to regular jobs, but they are more likely to eliminate their debt, live where they can grow some food, get off the grid within reason. Those are securities that are far less abstract.
This is the beginning, or the resurgence, of a trend; yet, it remains a minority. As the conventional economy recovers the majority have returned to their jobs, the malls, the couch, and their comfort zones. A significant minority sees that as yet another illusion. The Money & Life event at Whidbey Institute is for the people who see past that illusion and are interested in defining that new world. I’m glad to be included. (And happy it is just up the road within bicycling distance.)
The easy guess about the future is to say that the more things change the more they stay the same. In the last fifteen years or so I’ve watched the investment world bounce around as normal, but have also watched financial deregulation undermine the integrity of the markets while generating massive wealth for a narrowing segment of the population. The fundamentals of individual investing persist, but the growth in the excesses can’t persist for thirty more years. Maybe we’ll return to a more regulated market, but only after a more significant upset. I doubt that the total system will collapse from extreme dysfunction, but if it does, something familiar will remain. The global guesses are tough, but personal answers exist, and if they don’t, we’ll create them. Some say that currencies will fail, that money won’t exist; but, life will persist and thinking and acting now can help make a better society happen then. Step one: Ask a lot of questions. Step two: listen for answers. Come to Money and Life on Whidbey and do both.
Disclosure: I’m Board Secretary for The New Road Map Foundation, aka FinancialIntegrity.org.