Book Review: the Great Reset

I just finished reading Richard Florida’s latest book, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity.

In this book, Florida argues that our current economic upheaval is more than simply a recession. Rather, he says it is a major change-point in our economic/social systems, which will result in new living and working arrangements. He calls such a change-point a ”Reset“. Florida offers up lots of evidence for his findings, which I won’t go into here. After covering some history and causes of the current recession, Florida offers up some ideas for the direction we should go.

There’s a lot in this book that I agree with. I think Florida’s analysis of the real estate meltdown is right on target, as is his statement that too many bright minds have been drawn into the finance field, which he views as being too large, parasitic, draining capital from the system and producing little of value in return.

Florida’s vision of the coming decades in one in which various mega-regions around the country and around the world increasingly become magnets for talent and innovation. These mega-regions will move more and more toward what he calls the “idea-driven” economy. He supports the development of the infrastructure needed to interconnect these mega-regions, such as high-speed rail. Florida also ridicules the consumerism of past decades and the present, and rightly so.

I’m still not entirely sure how Florida takes into account resource depletion, peak-oil, etc. He does mention peak-oil. And he acknowledges the work of James Howard Kunstler (whose ideas are found in The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century) and others who think that our society is going to be “less big” in the future, more local, and lower-energy. Essentially Florida feels that by moving away from being a car-commuting society and developing new energy technologies we can avoid some of the problems of peak oil. I guess I need to read through book again, or some of Florida’s other writings.

Aside from the peak oil issue, there is one other question I think needs to be addressed with regard to Florida’s envisioned future: is it what we want or need?

What I mean is this.

Assuming that Florida’s vision of the future is right, and Kunstler is wrong, and we move toward a society of much greater mobility, in which most people rent rather than own their homes in order to have greater flexibility to move to areas of greater economic opportunity and/or professional growth, what does this kind of community look like? To what extent can we call any “place” a community, if people have no particular familial or social ties to it?

The human being evolved and for centuries existed in small groups, villages, towns. Do we want to move toward a society that is perhaps even further from that state? Will modern communications and transportation make great distances less of an impediment to close family relationships?

Due to a bad family illness, I have recently seen the value of real, long-standing, traditional community. When my father recently developed cancer and died, the community he was a part of for 40 years really came together to help him and support my mom (and me). In the increasingly transient society that Florida envisions, will people have that kind of social support network?

Perhaps I am being overly nostalgic due to this recent incident. It may be that for most people that kind of community is already dead. I certainly think that suburbia as it currently exists can really isolate individuals and families.

So while I think that Florida’s ideas are probably quite valid from a strictly economic and utilitarian point of view, I think it is appropriate to ask the the more value-related question about what we really want and need.

Of course, it isn’t going to be an either/or situation. People will still have the choice of where to live, and how to live. OK, I’m blabbering now.

At any rate, it is a good book. Thought-provoking, well-researched, and well-written. Florida offers up a generally positive view of the future. Check it out.

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