2011: Better, Worse or More of the Same?

By Greg Sitek —

January 2011… hope, anticipation, concern, fear, trepidation and worry are some of the words I’ve heard when digging for information about what to expect over the next 12 months. I didn’t hear anyone saying great, fantastic, exceptional or the like. Optimists are projecting a gain while pessimists are saying flat or even “double dip.”

However, with the recent announcement of the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, our U.S. economic outlook for 2011 has improved. The result of this policy decision should be increased consumer spending, business investment, corporate profits and GDP growth.

There are more decisions and actions pending that will influence 2011’s direction – The Highway Bill, which hasn’t been passed at the time I’m writing this, will have a tremendous impact on the transportation and construction industries—influencing major changes in the construction unemployment numbers, as well as the market’s economic stability. If the new bill that is adopted follows the one proposed by representative James Oberstar and his Congressional committee, we should be on our way to developing a transportation infrastructure that will make us more globally competitive.

When we think about 2011, we need to reference it in relation to 2010, not 2009 or 2008 or 2007. We can’t continue to live in the past because we will not be revisiting it. Too much has changed.

If you’d like to refer to the past, read “Brave New World”, a novel by Aldous Huxley, written in 1931 and published in 1932 that describes the setting in which we find ourselves. Our world is all about change. Technology is the catalyst and will continue to be. In 1949, Arthur Miller wrote a play, “Death Of A Salesman” that, although it addresses many social considerations, focuses on the loss of an industry and many jobs as a result of technologically introduced changes.

Dealing with change is not a new socio-economic problem. It has been around since someone invented the wheel, or lever or pulley; in other words since humankind first embraced technology. The only difference between the comic strip Alley Oop’s era and today is speed or rate of change. In the last three years think about all the change and the growth of things like… social media (Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo, YouTube, etc.), electric vehicles, China, India, new cell phone technology, iPad, BlackBerry PlayBook, medicine, Congress, our national debt, politics, interest rates, mortgage rates and all the other changes we have been trying to understand and handle. The list is virtually endless. You’re lucky if you can keep up with just some of it, and, fasten your seatbelts, there’s more to come.

What will happen in 2011? Economic conditions will continue to improve, but not at a rapid rate. Unemployment will decrease as technology opens doors for new products or enhancements of existing ones; consumption increases and along with this the need for employees. The extension of the tax cuts is a big plus and will help just as the passage of the highway bill will. Housing will start recovering in some markets but, in order for it to rebound noticeably, employment will have to improve. Manufacturing will start to improve as we become more competitive or introduce new products. A better transportation infrastructure will help by lowering transportation costs. Everything is tied together, each facet dependent on the other.

We need to learn how to better handle change, but we never do. We still haven’t learned how to control the factors that throw us into these kinds of situations. You’d think that with as many of these economic downturns that we as a country have experienced, we’d have learned something but it’s obvious that we haven’t. We keep making the same mistakes.

How do we get out of this mess? Let’s recognize that we can’t live in the past, but we certainly can learn from it. We just need the testicular fortitude to do the things that launched us into the role of world leadership…

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