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Monday, 16 March 2009 02:00

No Time for Pie

By  Alexander Horne
'The effort of answering broke the rhythm of his rocking – for a moment he was silent. Then the same half-knowing, half-bewildered look came back into his faded eyes.'

F.Scott Fitzgerald's timeless classic 'The Great Gatsby' is as penetrative an insight into the often transparent and inflated perception of 'making it big' as can be found in the richest of book merchant's shelves. The book was an anatomy and breaking down of one of the most famous sugar coated ideologies from the West - 'the American Dream'. The more the reader reads into Fitzgerald's lead character Gatsby the more they learn of an artificial kingdom that bit by bit crumbles beneath the lead character and shows his previously spouted stories of grandeur to be nothing more than twisted truths and exaggerated lies.  

A number of years after the first release of 'The Great Gatsby' the United States of America woke up to an almighty economic hangover that not only developed into one of the deepest recessions ever recorded but, spread throughout the world affecting many other super powers as never had before collectively been seen. It is yet to be seen whether today's economic crisis will deepen to such an extent but what is apparent is the greater stretch of the global market place. Economies in the East have since grown and are now playing ball as part of a global pitch. It would appear that the more dominoes they are – potentially the greater the crash.

I like many of my friends and colleagues struggle to fathom what exactly the current economic situation means and how it will affect us. However, what I do understand is that there must now not only be changes to the way bankers and huge corporations behave. As members of society and consumers we must all take responsibility for our actions. To borrow from early Russian revolutionary Nikolai Chernysheksky, without emulating his asceticism (sleeping on a bed of nails and eating only meat to build strength), now is the time to ask 'what is to be done' and act upon it.  

Such action need not be physically apparent, loud or revolutionary. 

In Denmark a sign-making company has banned 'the recession' from their workplace. Talk of crisis in meetings is banned, newspapers are edited not to include crisis-related articles and anti-crisis stickers are handed to customers.

"You have to say, enough is enough," says general manager Lars Nonbye.

The company's response is admirable in the face of a potent mix of hard facts, icy predictions and general doom-mongering reports wafting through many outputs of media. However, whether Mr. Nonbye's actions will eventually ban the crisis from his company's accounts books is yet to be seen.

Another contrary and active response to, what potentially could be, the current Western modal for economics' plight is one of taking greater responsibility. To think before acting has often been neglected or left slightly undercooked in the desire for quick results and maximum profit. Would an architectural project such as that of Zaha Hadid's Ski station in Innsbruck, Austria been publicly displayed with bits of black duct tape masking gaping holes in the structure in the current economic climate. I very much doubt so. If it had, a reputation for shoddy-quality could have left a deeper wound than the small sting it did bring. According to Financial Times columnist Luke Johnson 'the easy money is all gone, and there will be no more for a long time.' Will this mean the end of 'starchitects' and napkin drawing dream buildings – probably not but it would be hard to believe the same amount of expensive 'starchitect' designed buildings sprouting up throughout the world. With a bit more spare time on their hands - architects, designers and engineers could use that time positively. We are told to save for rainy days and spend when the sun is out and now is an ideal time for industries to spend some more time inside and have a closer inspection at what they are doing and how they can improve. 'We need to make programmes do research and deliver lectures about this moment' opines Luke Johnson. With less credit and a slowing down of industrial output, companies can invest more time in thought and investigation of outcomes from their actions. It is an opportunity for them to rid themselves of any half-knowing, back-and-forth rhythms of decision-making and examine alternative routes with concise thought and execution.

Read between the lines of some gloomy articles and there are words of hope. Many smaller companies have the ability to re-adjust themselves to market changes quicker than the multi-national juggernaughts set in their ways, the better perceived companies will be able to snap up the best talent available, individual's who harboured dreams of starting their own business but were held back by full commitment to their job may be enforced to take entrepreneurial action in the face of redundancy.

It is apparent that there will be a large amount of financial debris and broken livelihoods from this crisis once the storm has settled but, instead of reflecting on what has been lost we can begin to look and act upon the changes required to re-adapt. The world's 20% richest people consume nearly 75% of the planet's natural resources this tells us that the distribution of consumption is seriously out of balance. It's time for the West to give up on apple pie for a while and accept that if we are to continue trading globally in free markets there will be a natural re-order of this exaggerated and unbalanced system. This would suit small to medium size businesses that are locally focused, responsible and clustered throughout the globe. These companies would likely sell products based on their actual quality value, as opposed to selling a quickly and mass produced product at an inflated price that leaves consumers feeling cheated and waiting for the next line. Honest, quality, unsweetened products and services competing in a more balanced global market would be a progression in my opinion and if that means leaving behind excesses from luxury lifestyles so be it. We adapt.
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