Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Reset Reading

I was disappointed to read David Brooks column this morning. The usually cool-headed centrist seems to have lost it, ranting about Obama's "transformational liberalism".

Brooks is right that The President has not chosen between his long term domestic priorities and the need to stimulate the economic recovery now. Obama is placing a big bet that the recovery will happen soon enough and steeply enough so that he can have his cake and eat it, too.

If he's wrong, policywise he will have to raise taxes on the middle class, postpone his domestic initiatives, or some of both. And politically, he is risking a Republican resurgence in the off-year elections of 2010 (see Clinton in 1994) and a one-term Presidency a la Jimmy Carter.

But Brooks falls into the trap of trying to understand Obama in conventional 20th Century liberal/conservative terms, when those labels now obscure more than they clarify.

There is the possibility that Obama's transformational politics do not fit into that old paradigm at all, that we are in a period of transformation, yes, but part of that transformation is that the rules of the game have changed on almost every dimension. Maybe Obama is just trying to catch up with what is happening in the world, rather than being out in front of it. Maybe he is just practicing Reset.

I have read two books recently (on my Kindle, which has changed my life, the Kindle not the books, but more on that at another time), which are Reset books: Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.

Zakaria posits a world in which the US is no longer the hegemonic power. As he says, "The tallest buildings, biggest dams, largest-selling movies, and most advanced cell phones are all being built outside the United States." As an example of the consequences, see Obama's letter to Russia trying to make a deal to enlist Russia in the effort to control Iran. And see Hillary Clinton transparently sending two enjoys to Syria Obama understands Reset. Zakaria blogs with David Ignatius on the Newsweek/Washington Post's PostGlobal.

Pollan writes about taking responsibility for what we put into our bodies, with the interrelated goals of taking care of ourselves, saving the planet, and pressuring the food industry to a higher standard of quality, transparency, and scientific credibility. But what is exciting about Pollan's Reset, is that you and I can start our own version today. If each of us started insisting on eating only -or even mostly- what Pallan calls "real food" (locally grown, in season, unadulterated by chemicals) it would not be long before the food industry would start responding.

Here's an example of what Pollan is talking about. A good friend and former colleague, Karen Lehman, runs Chicago's Fresh Taste Initiative, a non-profit organization that fosters collaboration between farmers, for-profit entities and government agencies to bring fresh, sustainable products to consumers’ tables, along the lines of the “farm-to-table” movement that’s been taking off in the last couple years. It is Reset in action.

Pollan's blog through the New York Times is called On The Table.

What's your favorite Reset idea of the day? Send it to me.

I'd love to report these ideas in the blog as we collective try to understand how to actualize the idea of Reset in the real world. Post it as a comment on the blog, on Facebook or twitter, or send me an e-mail at marty@cambridge-leadership.com.

My favorite today? Courtesy of Lynn Staley, my wife: Doctors in Maine are being trained as dentists to address the scarcity in rural parts of the state.

And again, since Reset is a leadership idea, check out the Washington Post blog On Leadership as well. This week's question was whether Obama's refusal to spell out the details of a health care plan and force the Congress to do that work was an exercise of leadership or an abdication of responsibility. What do you think?


dianec said...

There's never a shortage of good ideas, and Obama understands that he doesn't need to spell it all out. He's foregoing the technical solution (figuring it out) and letting others help solve the problem. Part of his approach is more collaboration and this is what it looks like in action.

Marty Linsky said...

Agree. But see the criticism he gets for doing just that, rather than making himself the issue by proposing a fully-fleshed out plan.

Anonymous said...

Reset is a difficult challenge and few people will be able to work it effectively on multiple fronts. I think the jury is out on Obama. Some of his thinking regarding foreign policy may be leaning in that direction but, at least to my untrained eye, his domestic efforts appear to be more re-tread than reset. It is early still though and he has enormous pressure from within his party to do the re-tread. Perhaps he'll be able to effectively exercise leadership that will alter the heading the congressional leaders are set on.

The earlier comment on collaboration is an example. I agree there have been several early interesting, collaborative notions on the foreign policy front but little real effort domestically has jumped out at me. Not announcing a detailed plan may be the exact right thing to do but it doesn't mean he's being collaborative. The domestic effort I've heard about around the stimulus appears more like 'let's collaborate and do what I want to do, but do it together'. Still, there's a time for collaboration and a time do do without it.

Verves/Dick said...

Reset is particularly difficult in politics where popularity , not success in problem solving, is the measure of success. Popularity is a very short term phenom especially with our ever present press and uniformly uninformative pundits on 24/7.Short term for Congressmen and women is a moment to moment fact and this makes the House elections a real problem for Obama.But I think he is trying to solve problems. He is constrained by the Democratic majority to some extent, witness elements of the stimulus law.They will be especially difficult on health care and taxes.

I agree that David Brooks, whom I respect, is off base with transformational liberalism comment. He is throwing red meat into the ring which he usually does not do unless he means that Obama is transforming liberalism into something new and different from its post New Deal perjorative definition by conservatives. The labels only represent querulous partisanship not thinking issues through for long term solutions.

Your blog is great. Ciao.

Marty Linsky said...

what do you think about Doug's observation that Obama seems more reset oriented on foreign policy than domestic? Should he have been tougher on earmarks and risk losing support from his fellow Dems in the Congress?

Verves/Dick said...

I think we have too little knowledge to judge foreign policy at this point despite the openings to Syria and Russia. Our approach in Pakistan, while the right one in my view, is not reset as it is a continuation of Bush policy. Also,Bush policy also was changed in the last part of his Admin by Rice whom I was supportive of as Sec of State.On the domestic front, I think we have the stimulus law, the budget proposal and the TARP reform to base judgments on. Some of the stimulus is retread but retread is probably necessary to get projects out fast and jobs created. It is no time to create a new manpower training/job creation program as we go from 4% unemployment to 8% and the market falls 20% more.Besides in our only recent experience with a depression, infrastructure grants and public works projects assisted in getting the economy to upturn in 1935.
Earmarks are a non issue in my jaded view. They are a process issue demanding transparentcy but not necessarily bad social or economic policy. Not all earmarks are bad economic and social policy by any means if the grantee is productive and the project effective; so long as we know who put it in.

Eduardo Silva Melo said...

Like the Austrian School of Hayek and Schumpeter I believe that we are going through a process of “creative destruction”. “Debt supercycles can only be cured by allowing the world economy to fall into a short but very steep and severe depression, which liquidates the debt, bankrupts the sick banks and companies, and causes soaring unemployment, but also lays the foundations for a new era of healthy growth”.

I believe that we are going through a reset phase in terms of international diplomacy and relations. China must and has to reset, leverage its levels of consumption, deal with the overcapacity problem and modernize its economy. I understand that the US can be of great help for that matter and the recent visit to China is an important signal.

The European Union is also going through a very difficult time, the economy has stagnated and the protectionism is on the rise. There is no unity between the EU countries and they don’t speak one voice. I question myself if the old Europe will be able to help/support the new countries that recently joined the Union. After billions in loans from Western European banks to Eastern European markets many countries, still not in the euro, are at the door step of becoming insolvent.
On a daily basis people tend to be more aware of the difficulties and the need to reduce consumption and save. I believe there will be an impulse in terms of micro-credit and in terms of the need to be an entrepreneur and build one's business. In Europe, more than in the US this impulse is necessary. Europeans tend to be more accommodated and more risk adverse.

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