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A Silver Lining to Our Economic Doldrums?

Here's a happy thought to kick off the weekend: A guy we like and respect thinks the economic downturn isn't all bad--we may come out smelling of roses.Fareed Zakaria says in Newsweek's cover story that there's much to gain from our pain, specifically America has the opportunity to free itself from some bad habits. We Americans consume more than we make--and borrow to fill the gap. Our role model in this era of irresponsibility? Our government--from the municipal to the federal. Zakaria argues for infrastructure and energy stimulus similar to that discussed in Ben Jervey's recent piece for "The New Ideal." His long term solution: save those hard earned bones and implement more (but not excessive) regulation of the financial industry that will cause it to shrink.Checks and balances are James Madison's crucial mechanisms, exposing and countering abuse and arrogance and forcing discipline on people. This discipline will be painful for a country that has gotten used to having it all. But it will make us much stronger in the long run. If we can learn the right lessons from this crisis, the United States will once more be playing by its own rules. And that cannot be bad for us.RM Schneiderman over at The New York Times Economix blog points to a New Republic blog post that suggests a new era of American civic responsibility-like that spawned by The Great Depression-could be ahead of us.Could a similar spirit move us now? While Bush botched his chance to call the "9/11 generation" to service, people clearly want to make a difference. More than 26 percent of Americans volunteered in 2007, just missing the record since data collection began in 1974, and six points higher than in 1989. Of special importance for the future, college students' political engagement and voluntarism are at record levels. And young people aren't just doing service; they are building organizations, with support from foundations like Echoing Green and Ashoka.Oh, and we'll be chronicling this brave, new world.

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