June 9, 2013

The times they are a changin'

Colin Read, Everybody's Business

---- — Editor’s note: The Press-Republican is suspending Colin Read’s column while he is a candidate for Clinton County Legislature. This will be his last column until after the November elections.

Six years of stagnation have broken six decades of steady growth. And, the Census Bureau calculates that minorities will become the majority by mid century.

As society evolves, demographically, ethnically and economically, we see norms today that were unimaginable a generation ago. Government is formulating a rational immigration policy, and individuals are increasingly accepted without regard for their sexual preferences. There are public discussions over other policies that were once almost impossible to discuss.

Some find change scary, some find change exciting, and for the rest, change finds them.

Regardless, there is a mounting need for economic evolution. Almost always, though, change is thrust upon us at the most inconvenient times.

Recognition that our society is evolving at a rapid pace occurs very rarely. Economic evolution arises not in affluent times, because citizens who enjoy abundant economic fruits are reluctant to tinker with success. Nor does change foment in normal times, when people are focused on attaining the American Dream. In fact, we usually only evolve in challenging times when we have exhausted every other alternative.

With apologies to Kris Kristofferson, change is often another word for nothing left to lose. We loosen the status quo only when it seems to fail. Many believe now is such a time. Still in the midst of a global financial meltdown, many people have lost confidence in a bright future.

Societal evolution adds more uncertainty. Wouldn’t it be easier if we would explore new possibilities when we are most comfortable and secure?

Our economy and society rarely cultivates universal buy-in on any proposal, especially those that propose change by taking from one group and giving to another. Only through a broad consensus can we forge enduring change. Yet, when so many are financially strapped and scared, how does one dare propose a better way?

We do so by dispelling the notion that change must be costly. Productive change should be an investment in synergies, not the too-familiar reslicing of the existing pie. We must create a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Such an investment in a more innovate future should ask something from each of us, but offer something to all.

People are ready for change if accompanied by a well-articulated vision. For example, imagine if Plattsburgh could assume its rightful place in our nation’s historic legacy. Visitors would flock to our region to celebrate our role in nationhood. This new revenue would provide a bountiful return for the minimal investment we could make in our signage, storefronts, streets and our pride.

Given today’s struggles, we seek novel approaches to investment in our future. New York has a tradition of trying to purchase prosperity. However, that fiscal philosophy rarely works well for the North Country. Here, folks prefer to roll up their sleeves and sow the seeds of the future from the sweat of their brows. When change is foisted upon us by paternalistic political patrons from Albany or Washington, we don’t have a stake in our own future.

However, when we are united by concern for our children and fearful of the decline of rural America, we revive our North Country innovation.

Citizens want to take back our future. Some articulate how our best days are ahead. Meanwhile, the less imaginative merely complain about our past.

Still, we ought to be wary of checkbook dreamers who are willing to kick the can to future generations, or, worse, those with a vision but with no proposal to pay for it. 

In these times when people feel beleaguered, we must keep our dreams grounded and fiscally prudent. However, our regional heritage has bestowed upon us the ability to invest in our own future without impoverishing our present. Farmers have done so here for many generations.

Despite our current hardships, we must muster the energy to sow the seeds of sustainability prosperity. We can do so not by slicing the pie more thinly, or complaining too vociferously, but by attracting more opportunities and production today so we may offer our children the future they deserve.

Colin Read contributes to and has published eight books with MacMillan Palgrave Press. He chairs the Department of Finance and Economics at SUNY Plattsburgh. Follow his tweets at @ColinRead2040.