Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Structure Anyone?

So in the last post we talked about a systems approach to our current economic conditions. There's a lot of news out there now, some negative, some positive. There is much talk of government doing more and talk of cutting government back. As we said last time, let's first understand the nature of the problem. 

Are our current problems just a particularly long and severe business cycle? Are we undergoing something more fundamental, that is a structural shift in our economy that is prolonging our current problems and delaying real growth? I would proffer that we are seeing some significant structural changes that will work themselves through, but until that time real growth (GDP in the 3-3.5% range) and a return to more "normal" unemployment levels of 5-6% are going to be elusive. Some things that are shifting;
  • Home Ownership - Americans ideas and attitudes of owning a home have shifted. Many have found that it is not the "guaranteed" investment that so many household balance sheets can be built on. Also, a new generation of buyers is discovering that a home is actually an impediment to a mobile career and/or life. 
  • Consumerist Attitudes - The attitude of American consumers has downshifted in a fairly significant way since the financial downturn. Most consumers have found that more and more stuff is not a path to prosperity but just the opposite.
  • Technology - Always the ever present wild card in our market economy, technology continues to drive shifts in how everything is done. Technology has changed how we work, where we work and critically how we shop. This is beginning to drive major changes in commercial, and especially retail, real estate.
  • Government Deficit Culture - The deficits don't matter culture has finally run into a wall. Deficits do matter when they begin to grow to high percentages of GDP. Coupled with the fact that entitlement programs are now seeing the effects of several previously predicted demographic trends.
There are many other trends out there can could also be effecting the recovery, but these four clearly prove our current conditions are structural shifts, not just a bad cycle. So what do you think, can we really declare the current problem to be driven by structural shifts in our economy? By knowing this, could it change how government should respond? Does the government need to get out of the way and let the private sector return to a less uncertain business climate?

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