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Andy Sack who is one of the more interesting VC people in Seattle got asked the question “What has been the influence/impact of the current economic crisis on American Culture”. In all this is a very good question to ask just about anyone as we have seen our friends and family in distress if not having their homes and cars repossessed.
I talked about some of this over on Toolbox when I started thinking about the “contractor nation”, in that people with identifiable skills like Programming, Project Management, security engineering and other skills that are expensive and easily transported between companies if not industries. While industry specific skill sets are always going to be needed, I think that one of the biggest impacts to people in the middle career range, between the ages of 45 and 62 have been the hardest hit, they will remember this as they move into their next gig.
Amongst my friends in the 45 to 62 age bracket they have already started working on their exit plan, they want to either go back to doing something that has a more socially aware focus, or want to do something that is cushioned from economic shocks. While this might have been self-inflicted, we are all going to see the ramifications of changes in banking, investing, and in health care. With a slower growth than the boom years (with a quick bypass via 9/11), and a harder time accumulating wealth, some of the folks I know have dropped out, started their own companies and have no plans to work for a paycheck that is not theirs completely in the future.
There is a certain drive to want to control your own destiny, and while the idea of Contractor Nation is viable, it is viable only for those people with skills that are free of the encumbrance of time and place. To be a good project manager you do not have to be in the office every day, to run a vulnerability scan externally of a network you can be anywhere in the world. For jobs that are free of time and space restrictions, you can live anywhere, do anything, and still pull down a decent wage depending on where you decide to end up.
I think that we will still as Americans involve ourselves on an international basis and with the world. It is doubtful that we will become isolationist, but when even the Pope is stating that a new way has to be found to survive economically, you can bet that capitalism has lost some of its world wide sheen. I think we will still be seen as a great place to visit, but as for an economic power, the writing is on the wall, in time the dollar will no longer be the reserve currency unless as a country, and this includes who we elect decides that fiscal responsibility is something we need to do for the next 20 to 40 years. We will be living through the world of a lower standard of living, a higher unemployment rate, and a loss of education rates as we slowly as a country work our way through these issues.
Of course no future prediction is always going to be loud and clear. If anything the magic 8 ball on the desk that helped me write this is forecasting a cloudy and uncertain future. I do expect to see though the following:
1. Less employees for large corporations – there will always be people that seek safety in large companies, but many of the best and brightest will move on to start their own companies over time. We have seen this steady exodus over the last five years; I expect it to pickup speed over the next 10 years. Companies will no longer have the luxury of picking from the best and brightest, they will be picking from people who actually apply which will cause large companies to pressure governments for more H1B visa workers not less.
2. I do expect contactor nation – in that people will move from short or long term contracts that they write. There will be less reliance on the bigger contracting houses, and more reliance on highly flexible teams of people who work well with each other and have a loyalty to each other, not to the company nor to the project they are working on.
3. I do expect that eventually America is going to have to deal with the same issues that have influenced Russia since the fall of communism. This country is divided, and both sides are pulling on each other badly using bully pulpits and modern propaganda methods. While America will not collapse in the next 20 years, unless we can pull it together and stop the hate messages spewing from our supposed news radio, tv and internet sites, we are only going to further fuel problems in this country without a viable solution.
4. Energy is going to be an issue, but not as big an issue as we think it is going to be. We might have brownouts but the minute energy gets to that point; expect a renaissance of infrastructure and ideas to hit that sector. What remains to be seen is can a flexible small group of people take on the energy giants and win, or will they sell out and move onto the next big thing?
All of these will continue to influence us both inside and outside the current economic crisis. While people are losing everything the wreckage left behind is going to invigorate a process that is already starting, people taking better control of their wealth, and their own destinies. Interesting question Andy, thanks for posting this today.
(Cross-posted @ TechWag)
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