Tom Friedman asked yesterday in his New York Times column, what if 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession and is the year that everything changed? And 20 years hence — I’d make it longer — people will ask what you did in 2008. Like they asked about 1929 and the Great Depression.

“What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically,” he writes, “and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more.’ ”

Friedman is a modern-day Ida Tarbell, the greatest journalist of all time. Her editor, S.S. McClure, said that she was his best and most important journalist because when she took to an idea he knew millions of others would take to it as well. Likewise Friedman today.

In that regard he leads the bandwagon and is of greater importance as his own personal institution than Congress and the administration, the sycophantic press and the culturally reinforcing Mao Theater that is Hollywood, all of which consist of secondary floats in the parade of ideas and action.

Friedman calls this stepping “out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis.” I disagree with that. It is stepping into the greater cultural and historical picture, without which we will never get it right. As commodities guru Jim “The Legend” Rogers has been saying, many people have predicted this. Many have been waiting for it. Many have gotten it right.

The problem with first hindsight when a crisis appears is that we always assume history will move in the same direction as it last did, and it never does. It is a symptom that we are missing or intentionally ignoring the originality of the problems. The current situation needs a dose of Shunryu Suzuki’s zen mind/beginner’s mind — the past is dead; the future is not yet born. Every situation is different and unique in its circumstances, and problems need new eyes to be understood clearly and correctly. Put away the little 3 x 5 card from undergraduate school that says “history repeats itself.” There is no Second Roosevelt. There is no Second Lincoln. But Friedman’s observations bring a sign that reality is beginning to set it.

We are long from real crisis. The last started in 1929 and ended in 1946. The managers at the beginning were honed in a war of survival. ’Twas ever thus. Today at the helm we have descended into the last of the third post-war generation, denizens of middle mind and middle management who got to their positions by getting good grades on tests. The greatest crisis they have faced is quitting smoking. We are at the end of that, waiting still for the end to end. And already there is panic and violence related to the economic downturn. Shots fired in Ireland this week bring first blood.

We have not yet heard from the new voices. In my estimation of cycles and generations, the people who will fully solve this problem are only now between 9 and 13 years old, just as those who fought and won the Second World War were only 10 years old in 1929 when the crisis started.

In several ways this current breakage suggests the recession of the 1830s and the cultural transitions that took place at that time. We are at a transition similar to that in the mid-to-late 1800s, when major manufacturing in the Anglosphere shifted from England to New York and New England almost exactly as it today shifts from the U.S. to China. But here is something. In that period one could be born in Ireland, work in Manchester, England, in a factory and move with dozens of friends and relatives to Manchester, N.H., or Fall River, Mass. Both England and New England prospered in the changeover. Indeed, Victoria rose in this period and brought England to the pinnacle of power. One would expect that California could likewise find a way to make some cash today with all the comings and goings across the Pacific.

But no. Instead, California is disappearing. She is $42 billion in debt, rapidly losing population and ungovernable.

As commentator Joel Kotkin writes this week in Newsweek, it is the Death of a Dream:

California has returned from the dead before, most recently in the mid-1990s. But the odds that the Golden State can reinvent itself again seem long. The buffoonish current governor and a legislature divided between hysterical greens, public-employee lackeys and Neanderthal Republicans have turned the state into a fiscal laughingstock.

Hard times hit and we slowly disappear. Novelist Susan Straight describes her California life as a vision out of Camus or Kafka:

At night, I can hear the soft thumps as the rats land on my roof. They launch themselves from the branches of the apricot tree because they want to get inside my attic, into a house with heat.

The house next door, and the one next to that, have been empty since October, she says. The rats are cold and hungry. The skunks have a den somewhere next door, where the metal shed was dismantled. Opossums, raccoons and lizards also find comfort where they have colonized the abandoned yards in her neighborhood in Riverside, where about one in eight homes are in foreclosure or a few months away.

Their yards have gone feral, with hundreds of dandelion heads glistening gray in the night.

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