The Economy and Opportunity

When I entered college in 1992, I literally had zero clue what I wanted to do with my life. And although not much has changed on that front, I remember looking at the course listings and literally just closing my eyes and dropping a finger to choose classes. I ended up enrolling in a microeconomics class that met every Friday at 8am. For any freshman who enjoys the drink, you should know the result of this experiment. I attended about half the classes, and even when I was there, I was absolutely clueless. These concepts were far beyond my comprehension level, especially on a Friday morning when I'd probably consumed about 17 Natural Lights the previous night.

I went on to land a C- in the class, far and away my worst grade throughout college. (When I transferred to start my sophomore year, following threats to withhold payment from my father, I actually started taking school seriously and did fairly well.) What's the point of this story? In addition to the embarrassment of being a cliche college freshman, I didn't understand economics then and very little has changed since. I learned about the DOW about two years ago. Aside from a 401K that has about $11 in it, I've never invested in the market. When an employer hands me my stock option grant, I sign it while they're still explaining. I applied for a job at Standard & Poor's years ago, and just recently learned that the S&P stands for.... You get the point.

Despite the round-the-clock mass media whirlwind of the oncoming economic apocalypse, there are some things I'm not quite grasping. Before I jump into this, I realize that these are complex issues. I also understand that we're mired in two wars, a Bush deficit that reads like a short story and a worldwide panic surrounding cash, credit, yadayada. But when you put aside the fear that's being leveled on us at every turn (The New York Times' Paul Krugman basically predicted that we're heading for Depression II by daybreak tomorrow), I can't help but see a sea of opportunity out there. I could list countless areas that seem ripe for job creation, innovation and long-term competition. Here are just a couple.

Alternative Energy & The Environment: The debate on climate change is over. That said, an entire industry should be evolving. Sure, we're seeing it to some degree, but it's moving far too slow. The United States should be leading the world in this area; an area that could change the planet and be the industry of the future. But we're moving at a snails pace and it's perplexing. Is it the oil industry special interests that are slowing us? Lobbyists? I mean, this industry should be exploding right now, yet all we're seeing is that windbag oil tycoon from Texas who now wants to cash in on green energy. Where are the real thinkers? The visionaries?

Infrastructure: I know we've heard this from Obama, but why has it taken so long? Ok, we had Bush for eight years, but even before him? This country barely has a rail system. And when you consider the area mentioned above, there's never been a greater need for a new railroad system that transports people throughout the country. Then there are the bridges, roads, highways, schools and so forth. I hate to use "and so forth", but this is literally an endless list.

Technology: I realize that's a broad word, but our advancements in even basic technology have only just begun. For example, it's only a matter of time before internet access is ubiquitous. Isn't there some sort of grid that's been discussed, which will bring more information into the homes of almost every American? Well, let's get that grid going. And if it's not a grid, whatever it is. And then there's mobile, and countless other areas of entertainment, communication and education. We seem to be relying on start-ups in Silicon Valley (fine, Google's no longer a "start-up", though I do wonder about Gmail "beta") instead of making this a national program. Let's get everyone involved.

Electric Cars: What's the wait? The buffoons at the big three only touched on electric cars a few weeks ago, yet we still chucked them a few billion? That was a brilliant move: more money down the tubes. Why not give the money to companies that will start building those cars right now, and feel absolutely zero ties to the oil industry? GM, Ford and Chrysler have been in bed with ExxonMobil, et al for a century and that's not changing overnight. And if it it ever does, it will be too late.

This is just a start.

I understand all the credit problems, the housing market disaster and the slowdown in investments, but the above-mentioned areas and countless others, must be sparking some interest. If you turn off the television, close the newspaper and consider what's waiting to take off, not all hope is lost.

Then again, I did get a C-.