Monday, March 16, 2009

Imagine the Recession without New Media

It would seem much worse. That this does not seem as bad as the Depression is surely because it is not as bad as the depression. The depression had unemployment 2.5 times as bad as we're now experiencing. But also - and I think this counts for something, though I'm not sure how to measure it - people in the Depression had to rely on centrally owned newspapers and radios (that many people didn't have), which had inevitable editorial biases. Consequently it was much harder to know what was going on at a man-in-the-street level outside your own social circle. Even well-informed businessmen who had some idea what was going on at the national level would not have been able to check out the story of a regular old homeowner in Toledo, Ohio. Today, we can.

My only argument is that technology not only softens the impact of what would otherwise have been a much less pleasant hard landing, but it makes it psychologically more reassuring to deal with the unknown, because there is less of it - we can push back the darkness to some degree by going to Google or Youtube, and find out what's really going on in the job markets in Ireland or New Mexico. Of course the real issue in this recession is credit, which is still highly unevenly distributed. It is still not in the realm of individual consumers to grant credit, mostly because even if we were to coordinate in small consortia, we still don't have the ability to price risk. I think the pressures of this recession as well as the diffusion of technology allowing small groups to better assess risk will change that in the near future; essentially I'm predicting domestic microcredit cooperatives that would make hard landings in the future even softer.

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