I’m not sure that anyone other than Richard Florida (author of The Rise of the Creative Class) could thoroughly examine today’s economic climate and its long-term implications, and write a book that leaves the reader with a rather surprising feeling of optimism. Nonetheless, he’s done just that in The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. It’s an absolutely fascinating and even exhilarating, if perhaps a bit too broad, read. More importantly, it expresses a vision that seems to make readers on both sides of the vast political divides want to roll up their sleeves and get busy. Like the best visionary works, it’s a very practical and timely call to action.
Early on, Florida argues that economic peaks and valleys are part of the life-cycle of a society’s development as “obsolete and dysfunctional systems and practices” fall apart and are by necessity replaced by “the seeds of innovation and invention, of creativity and entrepreneurship.” Looking to history, Florida points to the first Great Reset in America that occurred in the 1870s, and to the second in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Each was a period in which the previous period of prosperity reached its limits, and a “reset” of innovation literally remade both the economic and geographic landscape of the nation.
In the First Reset the factory became the center of economic life. The industrial city became the place to live. The shift was from an agricultural to an industrial economy. The transcontinental railroads were built. In the Second Great Reset, the one that evolved from the Great Depression, manufacturing efficiency and productivity improved dramatically. Suburbia attracted the mobile population with the new wealth to buy a home and a car to travel to it. The population migrated to the suburbs and the South and the West — so much so that a majority of us lived in the South and West by 2000. The interstate highway system was constructed.
Florida then points out that a third Great Reset is developing now, one that focuses on the development of denser, closely-linked “megaregions” made possible by, for example, new investments in public transportation and the technology that allows for the increased productivity of telecommuting. Florida believes that this is the time to build a great high-speed rail system to further integrate each megaregion and eventually to connect the megaregions of America. In emphasizes the promotion of creative jobs and service jobs—and the need to prepare for the former while making the latter more appealing. We are moving from “…an industrial to an idea-driven creative economy now,” Florida argues. We are seeing the Third Industrial Revolution and moving from “…an economy based on making things to one that revolves around knowledge and creativity.”
The Great Reset also calls, to a degree, for a shift in values and a redefinition of success. “The promise of the current Reset is the opportunity for a life made better not by ownership of real estate, appliances, cars, and all manner of material goods, but of greater flexibility and lower levels of debt, of more time with family and friends, greater promise of personal development, and access to more and better experiences. All organisms and all systems experience the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.” The coming Great Reset gives us the promise of time … to innovate, to devote to causes, to spend with family, to simply live. Renting, rather than owning, in some cases gives individuals the mobility to take advantage of new opportunities—and may well be the better long-term investment. Quality of life may be measured more by the time and resources to have meaningful experiences than by possessions.
In Florida’s discussion of the current Reset, he builds a compelling and, yes, practical case for recognizing, understanding, and then taking full advantage of the opportunities created by “new ways of living and working” that will drive “post-crash prosperity.” Speaking both as a passionate idealist and hard-nosed pragmatist, Florida proposes guiding principles, based on his examination of history and the present economic, social, and political climates that can help America and the rest of the world to move toward a more sustainable and prosperous future. Here are a couple of those guiding principles, offered for example:
1. An abiding faith in a simple, undeniable first principle that “every single human being is [or can be] creative … The real key to economic growth lies in harnessing the full creative talents of every one of us.”
2. “There’s an urgent need to create new good jobs — lots of them. We need to support the growth of higher-paying knowledge, professional and creative jobs, and make sure that greater numbers of workers are prepared for them.”
Having rigorously examined two Great Resets, Florida makes a compelling argument that together, we can address urgent needs and build a new prosperity. He calls for us to look beyond the short-term band-aid quick fixes and invest for the long-term — something that’s hard to accomplish in the short-attention-span days of the 24/7 news cycle. We are past the time when we can afford to focus on a problem’s symptoms rather than its deeper root causes. The older, non-sustainable fixtures of our society, frankly, are not coming back. We need to start working on what will replace them. “Let’s stop confusing nostalgia with resolve. It’s time to turn our efforts, as individuals, as governments, as a society, to putting pieces into place for a vibrant, prosperous future.”
Florida also has some excellent points about the financial industry, reminding us that its original, intended purpose is to connect capital with enterprise. Basically, it’s a necessary middle man. Like all middle men, it should be as small, efficient, and invisible as possible. It was not meant to be an intoxicating instrument of ever-increasing complexity and risk, existing largely to feed itself. The instrument of commerce needs to refocus on capitalizing innovation and infrastructure.
After reading the book I found myself not just hoping, but believing that a new model of sustainable, long-term prosperity is within our grasp. I found myself wishing that the book was longer—I kept wanting more depth, more exploration. It is, after all, a very quick read. But in the end, The Great Reset isn’t meant to provide all the answers and blueprints. No one book ever could. It’s meant to spark thought, conversation, and, ultimately, action. It does the first two brilliantly. The vision articulated is practical and exciting. I am ready and eager to start working on the third. and I am eager to go back and read some of Florida’s earlier books. I hope my elected leaders are doing the same.