There’s lots of talk about jobs these days…and rightfully so. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner declared the obvious…that unemployment will remain ‘unacceptably high’ for a long time. Business experts, media pundits and politicians watch carefully as employment statistics emerge each month, looking for the good news of ‘recovery’…and for some, looking for their idea of political good news as the employment numbers continue to point toward an extended period of economic stagnation. I’m hearing talk about ‘recovery’ and job creation, but I’m not hearing much talk about what kinds of jobs we need to encourage with public policy and support with education and infrastructure. Now is the right time to have these conversations…when new jobs with new skills are needed, and where these jobs can also build more resilient communities with a higher quality of life.
Many of the jobs that have been lost in the Great Recession will not return under any circumstances…some will return, but will need a new business model or public infrastructure before any hiring will be seen. No…‘recovery’ doesn’t mean a return to past patterns or habits, but will look dramatically different. And…it should look different. The unsustainable public and private decision-making that got us into our current fiscal mess cannot be trusted in plotting our economic course in the future.
So far, the only proposals that have gained much traction in the public arena have been ones that are both highly partisan and way too ideologically extreme: either a greater role for the federal government in job creation for at least another decade, or a greater reliance on an unregulated, free market business environment in hopes that this direction will lead to a different and positive outcome next time. Both of these extreme options have one thing in common: they both lead to a greater and greater centralization of power…one through increased government control and the other through business mergers and acquisitions where the resulting mega-corporations are too big to let fail. In my view, both of these directions are likely to reduce the quality of life for everyday citizens. Let’s not do that!
A while back, I wrote a bit about E.F Schumacher and his classic economics commentary, Small Is Beautiful. I know…those who support one of the extreme ideologies above call Schumacher’s work naïve, but it’s still true that most jobs in the United States are created in local communities where government agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses seek to meet the needs of everyday citizens. In small communities, it’s clear to everyone that it takes the whole community to sustain the vitality of a community. That’s right, friends…I believe we need to start rediscovering how important our small communities are in the grand scheme of things.
We can’t afford to wait for the federal government or big business to create the jobs we need…we all need to get busy in our communities. Leaders and everyday citizens in our communities need to talk together about how local resources can meet the needs of local people through creating and sustaining local jobs. In the good times, it happens naturally…in the bad times, it takes some extra attention and energy. Almost every community has the capacity to discuss what’s needed most urgently…to enthusiastically rally support and gather resources…and to feel the fulfillment in doing something important together where small sacrifices spread across the community make a difference.
What kinds of jobs do we need? I believe we need to look at our local infrastructure to discover places where we can ‘remodel’ our communities, using some of the design tools in ‘planned community’ methods. Why should these great concepts be restricted to just new community planning? If every community decided today to identify and remodel just one ‘planned community’ component in their town or city, even a modest outlay of money would employ a few local citizens in those efforts…multiplied across the country, this would be dramatic. These projects would meet local needs far more effectively than any federal agency or multi-national corporation could match…AND these locally-sensitive, infrastructure improvements would dramatically improve the quality of life in those communities…AND those communities would be enthusiastic about their capacity to get things done.
Let’s start talking about economic recovery with open minds, including non-traditional methods rather than just following the same old ideologies. Sure…the federal government can have a role in some job creation. Sure…big business can contribute to some economic recovery. But…I feel the really naïve position would be to believe these are our only options…that big is always better. Let’s at least include decentralized, community-based job creation as we discuss and envision economic recovery. Who knows, we might find a national revitalization…one community at a time.