David Rothkopf

20 things that won’t survive the crisis

I wrote this last night. (Actually the day before. It’s a long story that involves trains, planes, snow, and an incident in a parking garage with an Eskimo that I just don’t have time to go into here.) In any event, after I wrote it, I noticed that my colleague Dan Drezner has written an ...


I wrote this last night. (Actually the day before. It’s a long story that involves trains, planes, snow, and an incident in a parking garage with an Eskimo that I just don’t have time to go into here.) In any event, after I wrote it, I noticed that my colleague Dan Drezner has written an FP article called “13 Unexpected Consequences of the Crash.” What am I supposed to do, shoot myself?

No, we’ll just pretend it was all planned and maybe the editors can link them together and have it look like a carefully conceived symphony of in-depth perspectives on what is going to happen to us all at the end of this economic death spiral. 

And in that vein, just to help you with your planning, here are some people and things that won’t survive the economic crisis:

  1. Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso
    There are items on today’s sushi menu that probably will stay fresh longer than he is in office. Nobody had much confidence in him to begin with. But with the Japanese economy dedicated to disproving the theory that things never get as bad as you fear, expect his departure and a parade of successors that will make Japanese voters yearn for the stability of say, post-war Italy. (What does the Japanese market downturn have in common with a bunch of super-models? No bottoms.)
  2. Illinois Senator Roland Burris
    Here’s my bet: he is convicted of a crime long before Rod Blagojevich’s pompadour is in the hands of a prison barber. I know this has nothing to do with the crisis, except perhaps for the fact that the American people are hungry for people to blame and punish — for anything.
  3. Chrysler
    We already know that GM and Chrysler are putting a bunch of lousy brands out of their misery. (Although the Chinese will probably buy Hummer and make a fortune selling them as mobile homes given that they meet Chinese housing standards for a family of 12.) I think the last Pontiac fan died of old age during the Truman Administration. There are probably a few beauticians in Union, New Jersey who still think the PT Cruiser is anything other than the automotive equivalent of a mullet. But for the most part the makes consigned to the scrap heap the other day will not be missed. Neither will Chrysler once it is clear its management is doing too little — it’s too far gone. Congress is tired of bailing out the private equity fat cats that own much of it and everyone realizes that its plan for being saved by Fiat is like having someone throw a drowning man a cinder block. After them, other car brands will go. There are simply too many. The market has spoken. And no White House task force is going to be able to persuade consumers otherwise.
  4. My 401-K
    I hope you will all come visit me in the refrigerator box in which I plan to spend my sunset years. I’m thinking of some place nice, maybe under a bridge somewhere in Florida.
  5. Retiring at Age 65
    In a more serious vein, while I may be content to live in a refrigerator box by a canal in St. Pete wrestling alligators for scraps of food, other harder-working Americans are going to realize that they’ve got to keep working. Fortunately, this crisis coincides with the demographic realities of an aging society in which there are just too many old people for the government to support anyway. And older people are still vigorous so why waste the economic value they can produce. Besides, the retirement age of 65 was set by Bismarck back in the day when few people lived that long. (And you think politicians are cynical today. How about those social security programs that don’t begin until you’re dead?)
  6. The Career of Gordon Brown
    He was on the ropes but then as the crisis deepened, he stepped up and the U.K.was comforted by his competence (which is really all he has to offer because personality he ain’t got.) But now that the crisis has further unfolded and precious little the government has done has seemed to work, you can hear the sounds of electoral blades being sharpened. The problem for the U.K. is that his likely Tory successor David Cameron would be the least original thinker at a convention of insurance salesmen.
  7. Citibank
    Of course it is too big to fail. So was the Soviet Union. But the brand is so damaged and worse damage is almost certainly on the way when the consumer credit crisis hits that it’ll be further broken into bits and pieces. And it won’t be the only bank to tank. In fact, in an ironic twist, it’s entirely possible that before this is over the government may start giving away one of the banks it owns with every toaster you buy.
  8. Thousands More Afghans
    Civilian death tolls in Afghanistan are mounting. Escalating the war won’t bring this number down. Sadly, one thing that is almost certain to survive the crisis is the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  9. Stability in Mexico
    For more on this, see the Axis of Upheaval series elsewhere on this site. More on that in a day ortwo.

    (In which I will focus on the Axis of Instability — the coalition of the unhinged that is the most direct link between Kim Jong Il and Joaquin Phoenix.)

  10. Unilateralism
    While The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is maintaining many of the draconian anti-terror policies of the Darth Vader Administration, some old favorites will have to be scrapped. Unilateralism will be the first to go. Not necessarily as a matter of principle. Rather, we simply can’t afford it any more.
  11. The Strong Dollar
    Face it, we may talk of a stimulus package today, but within a few years and after a few sequels, we may become known as the stimulus generation. The problem with stimulae is that they are like crack. Once you get a taste, it’s hard to live without. What politician is going to take a weak economy that is has grown dependent on a few trill a year from the great money pot on the Potomac and put it at risk by turning off the spigot? So we either borrow or we print money. Other currencies step up. They won’t replace us, but it will bea long, long time if ever before the dollar is what it once was.
  12. The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and…
    So here’s how the course will be taught in business schools: once upon a time, the newspaper industry decided to give away for free what they once sold. They went out ofbusiness. Get it? If not, check the home page of FP‘s parent company in a few years and see if the newspaper isn’t being primarily used as a promotional give away to sell pimply-faced teenagers SAT prep classes. (Kaplan is the profitable part of the Washington Post empire.)
  13. $11 Billion Helicopters for the President Seriously? 
    $11billion for foreign built helicopters for a president who has made a signature issue taking corporate jets away from supposedly profligate CEOs? Not.
  14. Barack Obama’s Haircut
    Look at it closely. It is simply not presidential. We’re not going to be able to make it through this crisis with something that looks like a six year old’s first buzz cut. Remember Mr. President, it’s not just your head anymore, it’s a head of state.
  15. John Boehner‘s Reputation as a Statesman
    Ahahaha. Just kidding. Boehner would need a reputation transplant just to have one. I suspect he is able to wander anonymously at his own family reunions. But other congressional reputations will surely falter as those wonderful folks on the Hill reassert their claim to being the least branch of the government. And if future stimulus packages contain any more pork than the last one, Nancy Pelosi is going to have to hand over her gavel to Jimmy Dean.
  16. A Navy Built Around Carrier Battle Groups…
    …and the current Army-Marine Corps contest to see which is really our expeditionary force of choice, and all the other obsolete or redundant military spending philosophies that are a vestige of America’s Era of Deep Pockets. Welcome to the Era of Limits. It’s not just an issue for defense spenders, either. It’s everybody’s new reality.
  17. The Bail Out Reflex
    If the recent report that the top 20 bank recipients of Federal aid actually reduced their lending levels in the fourth quarter of 2008 doesn’t do it for you, wait until the auto companies come back a third and a fourth time, or until you start looking at individual deals a little more closely. For example…where did the $150 billion we have pumped into AIG go?
  18. The Idea That Green Was the Color of Expensive Oil
    To all those who says low oil prices and the recession would kill the green revolution before it arrived, I hope you are paying attention. The president made green energy the center piece of his stimulus signing ceremony, the bill contains more money for greener more efficient energy than any in American history, another energy bill is promised this year and, significantly, the decision this week by the EPA to reopen whether or not to go after carbon under the Clean Air Act is a clear signal that before the next Congressional election, America will have started to set a price for carbon and create permanent legal incentives to embrace a new energy paradigm. This isthe one area of stimulus on which both parties agree, and its quite possibly a game-changer for the U.S. economy and for U.S. national security.
  19. California
    Not really. But it’s a little scary that it has gotten this close. Scarier still when you consider that California is the seventh or eighth largest economy in the world (bigger than Canada). And they can’t figure out how to generate enough revenue to run the government? Come on, it doesn’t seem like they are really trying then, does it.
  20. The Idea That You Can Change the Entire Mission of the U.S. Government Without Changing Its Structure
    You get it, right? We now own banks, run auto companies, manage a fairly complex national industrial policy, will have to reinvent the international system, etc… and we don’t have the people or the structures to handle these developments. We will try to do it without adding new phalanxes of officials of course, which will only screw things up. And then, gradually, we will reshape the government to meet these new needs thus (in some cases unfortunately) institutionalizing them. 

Ok, that’s 20. Now, over to you. Global changes? Careers that won’t make it? Institutions that won’t survive it? Don’t leave me hanging here.

Images from Getty

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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