Most of you have realized that our economy – in fact, the world economy – is moving through some large structural changes. Because the explanations of these phenomena change from day to day – even from our top leaders – you realize that the situation is not well-understood by anyone.
You also realize that the scale of events and consequences is so significant that it isn’t a good idea to remain blissfully ignorant and dutifully silent. So you scan the Internet looking for clear, actionable, balanced, unbiased information. We are all searching for clarity, but it seems the more you read, the less clear the subject becomes.
In late fall of 2008, someone on Nouriel Roubini’s RGE blog asked “what is the core economic problem we’re facing?”. Forty-three different people replied, and there were nearly forty different answers, many of which seemed perfectly plausible. It’s not just the lack of agreement on the problem that’s remarkable – it’s the fact that some of the nation’s smartest and most informed people congregate at the RGE blog. What if the question had been asked at the supermarket?
Whether on the blogs or at the supermarket, the answers will almost certainly reflect a sense of rage and powerlessness. Greedy bankers, a Ponzi economy, corrupt or ineffective politicians, hope for a rebound and uncertainty about it – these themes almost always figure into the answers and much of the discourse on the economy today. These are real factors. They do effect our economy, and they are legitimate. But what can you or I do about them? And what good does it do to say or write or read or hear these same things over and over? We need to dig deeper – to understand the underlying forces that are causing these changes. It’s time to accept our emotions, learn to live with them, and try to find our way forward. This realization, crystallized at the height of the great TARP debate of the time, was the genesis of the Brain Trust project.
As the need became clear, some of those same RGE bloggers decided to pool their efforts – to cooperate in order to build a composite, cross-checkable image of what is actually going on. We formed a group, and in a fit of whimsy we called it the “BrainTrust”. Then we started building the tools we’ll be using to collaborate on a massive scale. We’re using them to narrow down that list of 40 “problems” to a short list of fundamental “forces” that are affecting the economy. We will then make ourselves experts on the impact those forces are having and where those forces are taking us. No leader is going to tell us what to think – we’re going to discover this for ourselves, in a systematic, thorough fashion. You can be part of this, too, if you want.
The BrainTrust has evolved a great deal since its inception last fall. We have a core team, we’ve got a strategy, and we’ve built the first crude version of the internet-based tools we’ll be using to support this “massive collaboration” concept. The system’s Early Adopters even use the toolset to collaboratively write articles.
As the project has developed, we have kept our friends at RGE informed of our progress, and they have been very supportive of our goals, and hopeful that we might actually achieve them. To help publicize the BrainTrust and to further the RGE mission of providing the world’s best and most diverse economic thinking, RGE has offered to publish a series of articles written by the BrainTrust team. We’ll be posting those articles at RGE and also at the BrainTrust’s website at www.realeconomy.org. The article series will develop these two basic themes:
Top 10 forces affecting the economy. What are the top 10 structural forces that are affecting the world economy? What impact are these forces having, and what is the economy of tomorrow going to be like?
Bottom-Up Economic Re-development. What strategies should be employed at the bottom of the economic pyramid? What can the individual, the household, the small business and the local community do to re-position ourselves to cope with the new economic environment that we’re facing?
The BrainTrust’s strategy is simple, and very difficult. We are trying to ask the right questions, and provide a facility that hundreds of intelligent, well-informed people will use to concentrate a massive intellectual force. Those people will use that intellectual force to build a composite image of what’s going on, and what to do about it. We think the most basic “right question” to ask is “what are the forces, and what impact are they having?” Once we understand the forces, it will be much easier to interpret events, and project trends into the future. Best of all, as we understand the trends, we can develop coping strategies. Our ultimate goal is to help each of us adapt quickly and relatively painlessly to these massive economic changes.
The “Massive” Part
To become massive, this project must attract, enable, and inspire a lot of people. It’s our hope that you’ll read our first few articles and decide that we’re on the right track, but could use some help. You’ll respond to our articles and debate their merits. Maybe you’ll join the BrainTrust, and help write articles.
What do you think are the Top-10 structural forces that are affecting the world economy? Often things that look like a “force” are actually an “effect”. The actual forces are underlying currents in areas that may have little to do with economics. They may have their roots in cultural changes, societal evolution, global resource limitations, the vagaries of human behavior, and myriad other factors. Our aim is to examine these forces using a holistic approach, drawing understanding from many different inputs that contribute to the puzzle, not just from economics and finance. We are already quite sure the results will be very illuminating.
But there’s a lot more to the BrainTrust than writing articles. Achieving comprehension of our situation is a vital prerequisite to action, but it’s just the first step. We’re going to DO something with our knowledge, and we’re going to do things that each of us can implement from the bottom up, without asking anyone’s permission.
We have published our first article in the Economic Forces series, and it’s entitled “Economic Force: Free Flow of Information”. Free flow of information is a wonderful thing, but its impact on our economy has been both sudden and fundamental. This article explains a lot about why Globalization happened, and where it’s taking us.