In October 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged over 14,000 points, and the jubilation surrounding permanent growth in the housing market drove anticipation of even higher results. Five months later, when I described how the Great Depression unfolded to a group of history students, they scoffed at the possibility that anything similar could ever occur again. I responded that everyone they knew would be wise to protect their investments and that a severe contraction was likely within the next year. By September 2008, it was apparent to everyone that the faith in unlimited wealth in the housing market was badly mistaken.
The 2011 HBO film “Too Big to Fail” captures the core hypocrisies of the investment marketplace that have unfolded since the Gain-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act. American society must now confront the reality that the solutions implemented at the height of the crisis have laid the foundation for a much worse contraction going forward. Making the largest financial institutions bigger only worsens the systemic risk the global economy faces. The time has come to break the worldwide investment monopolies in the tradition of AT&T and Standard Oil.
Creating a series of smaller, investment networks will make financial services more accountable and responsible in the long term. It will also generate enormous new opportunities for middle market and small enterprises in regional and national developing economies. Incentives for new ownership are especially promising in the entertainment industries. Independent, creator-owned ventures drive the peer-to-peer investment networks on the Internet and have transformed the fields of print publishing, music, theater, television, and film. Organizations like the players’ associations in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association can emerge as leaders to maximize this trend on a global scale. These unions have the power and resources to crush the monopoly held by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. They can organize global semi-pro leagues with internet broadcasting contracts to allow more opportunity for young athletes between the ages of 15 and 25. These efforts would build real wealth (not just high income) for professional athletes and maintain a more equitable compensation system for promising stars of the future.
A similar proposal could work to revitalize higher education around the world. The American Association of University Professors has done essential work in maintaining the vibrancy of the First Amendment that is the heart of intellectual innovation. Still, there is a larger context for combining the benefits of educational workers’ tenure with maximizing the emerging online distribution systems. A collaborative network of teachers and academics who emphasize the creation and collaborative ownership of new knowledge and pedagogies would better compensate the most accomplished educators today and sustain a system of living wages and financial stability far more extensive than anything conceived within a single, national public education system. Instead of the wasteful system of public and private loans that has emerged since the 1966 attack on the Donahoe Higher Education Act, students, teachers, adjuncts, and professors would grow digital ownership of innovative educational products that re-define intellectual property for the next century. A partnership between the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Service Employees International Union has the potential to dramatically reduce poverty and debt, while growing a vast and efficient new educational enterprise.
Brasilia, Moscow, and Beijing have the most to gain from the development of a new global opportunity structure. However, the traditional centers of political and economic authority (Washington, London, New York, Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo) need to open these doors to end the legacies of colonialism and to lay the foundation for a multi-polar, stable financial system. Scholars and investors at the Society for American City and Regional Planning History meeting in Toronto, Canada, from October 3-6, 2013, will discuss how to begin the development of a dynamic, resilient world financial system by dismantling institutions that are too big to fail. All are welcome.
Dr. Walter Greason is the Executive Director of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth and author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).