Is it just me, or are you feeling more anxious and unnerved than usual?
I can't remember living through a period of such uncertainty in my lifetime. I'm not talking so much about the uncertainties in my own life -- there are always plenty of those -- but about everything that's going on in the world around us.
I've been around a long time now, so I've lived through the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, assassinations, gas shortages, riots, multiple recessions, George W. Bush, 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This moment in history feels different.
Obviously, the economy has a lot to do with it. Unemployment is nearly 10 percent. Even people who have jobs are worried about what the future looks like. So are people like me, who run small businesses. I don't know anyone who hasn't felt the effects of the recession we're struggling through. I don't know anyone who feels any sense of confidence about when it's going to turn around.
The financial prognosticator I've followed most closely for the past several years is Harry Dent Jr. I met him in October, 2007 when we were both giving keynotes at the same conference, and we ended up having dinner. I was already worrying about the economy, which was flying at the time.
Dent told me it was all going to collapse in the next year. His reasoning made sense to me. I went home and sold all my stocks. Everything he said came true. Now he says that we're about to enter a second and much more severe downturn -- a true depression -- that will begin by this fall. The Dow, he says, will collapse. Housing prices will continue to drop, and it will be ugly for a long time. Several of the smartest people I know agree with him.
I dearly hope he's wrong. I fear he's not.
It saddens me that we seem to have learned so little from the financial meltdown. It astonishes me that CEOs and senior executives of large companies don't see that paying themselves millions of dollars while laying off thousands of employees isn't just wrong, it's also tone-deaf.
But herein lies the opportunity. Change doesn't occur in the absence of pain. It's in times of uncertainty and despair that real transformation tends to occur.
I'm looking for the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company who steps up and says, "I'm going to take a bonus-free salary this year of $200,000 or $300,000 or even $500,000, and use the extra $5 million or $10 million I'd otherwise be paid to save 100 to 200 jobs in this company.
I'm hoping for a dawning awareness that we can't survive in a world any longer where the primary preoccupation of the best people in business -- and especially in banks -- is how to enrich themselves.
As the brilliant Michael Lewis has written: "It's more than a little nuts for a man who has a billion dollars to devote his life to making another billion, but that's what some of our most exalted citizens do, over and over again."
The time has come for the next evolutionary leap. It depends on the recognition -- beginning with a courageous few at the top of the food chain -- that we're all in this together.