Students of advertising know that when one of the greatest ad agencies of all time got going, the question was posed “how big can we get before we get bad?” It was the early days of Chiat/Day- the ones who brought you the Energizer Bunny, the Absolut bottle campaign, the best Apple ads and the sock puppet for pets.com and the Taco Bell Chihuahua (Babe Ruth struck out a lot too).
In America, we’ve always been fans of “Bigger must be Better.” In fact, everything about this country, including our people comes in XXL- except our thinking about the consequences of being supersized.
Remember David and Goliath? The bigger they are, the harder they fall? We keep growing, building and expanding for the sake of it. Just because we can we do. We came over to America to get away from an empire- and are now making a new one- and it’s falling apart at the seams.
Greg Hunter and I attended a planning meeting for the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission last night. We did the sticky dots on a map and the ideas on the white paper thing that are the required activities for all groupthink™ exercises- leaving the session knowing that it was pointless.
If you know much about complex systems, chaos theory and entropy- you know that as things get bigger they eventually fall apart. Dayton is a small city trying to fill a pair of XXL dungarees and it’s not working.
Low and behold, David Brooks of the New York Times writes an OpEd piece today talking about this very problem. There aren’t that many times I find his Faux News perspective worthy of the electrons used to transmit it, but today, his words (or rather the ideas that he’s pushing from British think tank head Phillip Blond):
The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers…
Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.
To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the “village college” so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.
Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations.
I’m not sure how “out-of-wedlock births” enter into this (sex is still fun kids, just don’t do it) but- the ideas of limiting large to keep small viable and cut the risks of the fall of the giants from taking everyone with them may have some traction after what the Wall Street Casino managed to pull off.
Brooks nails it when he says: “This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.”
And herein lies the struggle: at a point where we need true leadership most, our leaders are less likely to be trusted. If you are looking for a similar point in time- look to pre-WWII Germany and Italy- where the financial collapse set the stage for the rise of the dictators.
The writing is all over the walls- on a global, national and even the local, MVRPC level. We’ve gotten too big, it’s bad- and we need to look to move to smaller systems that won’t destroy us when they implode.
Here’s the video: