Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Time to Reboot America

Thomas Friedman, the highly respected New York Times columnist and author of numerous best selling books, has a great column today, Christmas Eve. The headline:

Time to Reboot America

He makes a strong case – so strong, so urgent, I want to quote liberally from it:

“We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.

“To top it off, we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.

“For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

“That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.”

Friedman is not the only national figure calling for rebooting America. Almost every day someone in government or business or society at large is calling for the reinvention of our country, or some huge part of it, on a scale not seen in decades, maybe ever.

For such a rebooting to happen, I think we need much more than government bailouts and stimulus packages. We need for people by the thousands and millions, at every age and in every walk of life, to face up to and overcome the hard times by rebooting themselves and their organizations – their governments, schools, companies, churches, civic and charitable organizations.

Remember that the term “rebooting” and its counterpart “booting” were adapted for computer talk from “pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps.” It is time for some major pulling up on our own bootstraps. We collectively got ourselves into this mess. We collectively need to get ourselves out of it.

It is the challenge and the opportunity of our lifetimes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bring back the wooly retiree

Scientists are talking – seriously, it seems – about the possibility of regenerating a wooly mammoth, a furry elephant-like mammal that went extinct toward the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. With the mammoth’s genome now decoded and DNA available, the experts say it could be done for about $10 million.

By today’s standards, when “trillion” is the new “billion,” that sounds pretty cheap. But we think it would be a better idea, and much less expensive, to bring back some wooly retirees.

We’re talking about bringing them back into the active, productive, vibrant life of the rebooter. Out of the TV room, out of the lounge chair, on their feet, doing things, and back into the mainstream.

Now of course, retirees haven’t become extinct, but going into a passive, do-nothing retirement bears some similarity to going extinct, doesn’t it? Withdrawing from the active life, shutting down the inner computer and basically checking out of life accomplishes about the same thing as disappearing.

Maybe we should start considering the passive retiree as a missing person. Perhaps not physically missing, but mentally and emotionally and psychologically missing.

Rebooting offers a healthy alternative to retirement “extinction.” Continuing to work, volunteering, going back to school, teaching, consulting, turning that lifelong hobby into a business – all are ways to recharge the batteries and bring oneself back into life on earth.

And the really good news: no danger of a retiree Jurassic Park!