Colorado is a boom or bust state. In the 80s, it boomed early on high oil prices. It went bust later on the collapse of oil prices. Big Oil closed all their Denver operations when it became economically infeasible to explore for oil in the Rockies. The contractors, most of whom were geologists and engineers went bust along with them. Many left town leaving a declining real estate market and failed regional banks and S&L’s behind.
Sound familiar? It was a microcosm of our national banking crisis. The difference? The banks weren’t too big to fail. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) spent about $900B to take over failing banks (an amount which they later recovered by raising rates on its member banks), the banks’ shareholders lost all of their stock, none of the executives walked away with multi-million dollar severance packages and no one occupied Denver.
Too bad it didn’t work that way in the financial crisis of 2008.
Last week, the press reported on an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study that concluded that the wealth gap between young and old is growing. The report went further in concluding that economic mobility from lower to upper income strata was more evident in Canada and many European countries than it is in the US.
Naturally, this information is used as fuel for those sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS). I wonder how many of those who reported on the OECD study actually read it (which you can do by clicking HERE).
What the report actually said was that upward mobility was primarily a function of parental influence on education starting in early childhood and extending through college. The gap between young and old, rich and poor is the result of how well educated you are.
To quote directly from the report: “Parental or socio-economic background influences descendants’ educational, earnings and wage outcomes in practically all countries for which evidence is available.”
Many pundits have speculated that the fervor behind OWS will peter out when the weather turns too cold to camp out in city parks. Even if that happens, the underlying problem – young adults who have worked hard and played by the rules can’t find jobs – will not vanish with the first snow. However, over time something must change.
"Start Your Own Business" will set you back $.99 in the iTunes store.
I have sat in on many presentations on how the Internet – Google, Facebook, Retargeter.com, Tumblr.com, YouTube, etc. – are changing the way business is done. When they are over, the middle aged listeners in the audience usually remark that they don’t get it. If I were 25 today, I would see those folks as too fat, dumb and happy to stand up to the competition I can offer.
Those too sluggish to adapt to the new world will end up like the last buggy whip manufacturers. We live in a world where $600 can buy a disk drive that would store all of the world’s music, where 5 billion mobile phones are in use and 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every month (according to the McKinsey Global Institute).
Creative entrepreneurs have figured out how to use technology to destroy old business models in healthcare, music, journalism, libraries, education, travel, supply chain management and the credit card industry – among others. Just as the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy caused economic disruption – lost incomes among those whose skills weren’t adaptable – the transition to a global information/Internet based economy is doing the same right now.
And, just as the OECD study concluded, education is critical to making the adjustment.
What if you’re not an A student and can’t figure out how to disrupt an old business model? Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams wrote of his experience creating new businesses for himself while in college in an Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal last April. Titled "How to Get a Real Education", he outlined the real world skills required to make a business work – any business. Not just those that are disruptive.
Free market capitalism has been the basis for American prosperity since our nation’s founding. Successful business people act in their own self-interest. It doesn’t result from greed; it results from need. That one man’s success can cause another man’s failure is part of the natural order. Those who seek to change it must consider that our prosperity will suffer.
Back in Denver, one enterprising geologist opened a micro-brew pub in an old industrial part of town called LoDo (Lower Downtown). Wynkoop Brewery became a popular restaurant in a bad part of town. His Plan B became Plan A.
Today that successful entrepreneur is governor of Colorado.