New World Orders, Part II

By Jeanette Garretty, Robertson Stephens Advisors

In 1966, Buffalo Springfield hit the charts with “For What It’s Worth,” which became something of an anthem for its time, the beginning of an era of tremendous demographic, social and economic change:

“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look—what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look—what’s going down?”

The baby-boomers are now doing it again, throwing out the old order without a clear sense of where the new order will take them. That’s not a criticism, but a fair statement about disruptive change in general. If the change is truly earthshaking, one can never be entirely sure where the tsunami will hit, when the tectonic plates will shift next, when the ground will stop shuddering.

Paul Krugman in this morning’s New York Times offers up a long view that is as apocalyptic as what must have been the view to some in 1966. “We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.” He qualifies this – all good economists know to qualify their forecasts, and this is a Nobel Prize-winning one – by saying, “I suppose we could get lucky somehow.” An alternative view that still gives ample due to Dr. Krugman’s concerns about free trade, globalization and debt is one that sees change in a more positive light. With change there is opportunity, albeit at sometimes-considerable cost. For that reason, opportunity is a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down, waiting to be picked up.

At whose feet do those gauntlets lie this November morning, fifty years after Buffalo Springfield’s clarion call?

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Anthony Lindner