About two weeks ago I had dinner with my parents and one of their oldest friends who was in town for a day. Like my mother, he hails from the eastern part of Germany, the part formerly known as German Democratic Republic. Unlike my mother, he stayed there until the bitter end.
I was inclined to think that someone like him would be most confident when it comes to Schumpeterian processes, the creative destruction and recreation of social and economic governance mechanisms. Well, I was wrong.
Maybe his – in my view – unwarranted pessismim about the state of the economy and, clearly, the country in general are simply a consequence of the persistent common German habit of badmouthing Germany. Some do it for strategic reasons, because they believe depression is a necessary precondition for the medication to have some effect. Others – most – do it because it has become the socialised myth of rationality de jour – a rather distant relative of truth, if you will.
True or not, this kind of talk has some effect. Depression-caused anxiety can be witnessed everywhere. And just as so many others, my parents’ friend – who once teached command economy and only fourteen years ago successfully managed to weather a most dramatic social change – now has fundamental doubts about the ability of our economic governance mechanism to adopt to the challenges of the future.
At times I tend to believe such pessimism is the contemporary version of the anxiety people pre-Copernican times must have felt when the days became shorter and shorter and colder and colder as the year progressed – not knowing, just expecting – that the days would become longer and sunnier again after midwinter.
If you browse through the archives of this blog or read my posts over at AFOE you’ll see that I am also very much concerned about some fundamental changes in the underlying structure of the way we live and exchange apples for pears at the edge of the forrest these days. What is happening to societies based on extensive division of labour in the wake of continuing labour supply shocks or increasing uncertainty about the continuing existence of crucical prerequisites for market interactions with respect to the reduced excludability of information goods? Important questions to which no one has an answer yet.
But those worried about the future – like my parents’ friend – should remember our ancestors who trusted in the occurence of the next sun-cycle in the absence of an explanation thereof, and eagerly waited for the first ray of sunlight and the first snowdrop to surface. I’m not sure whether Josh Marshall’s announcement that he is hiring (another) intern for his blog TalkingPointMemo can be interpreted as a surfacing snowdrop of the digital age. It’s clearly too early.
But there’s a chance.