A year ago, I published a book that argued that, for all the privations and dislocations of the economic crisis, it also provides us with the opportunity to make fundamental changes in our economy and society. I characterized these changes as a Great Reset, and I found similar moments in American history when new economic orders arose from the ashes of old ones, ushering in new eras of growth and prosperity. Since writing the book, I’ve been able to see for myself what I’ve long suspected: that Great Resets unfold not from top-down policies and programs but gradually, as millions upon millions of people respond to challenging economic times by changing the ways that they live. The economic crisis has taught us the hard way that we need to live within our means, to forestall debt; it’s made us understand that we don’t have to define ourselves in terms of material goods, that we can achieve a more meaningful and sustainable way of life.
In my travels across the country, I’ve heard from people who are in the process of resetting their lives. Young people just out of college tell me that they don’t want their parents’ suburban lifestyle; they’d prefer to find an affordable rental apartment in a city they love where economic opportunities are better. They don’t want to go into hock buying a big house and a big car, just so they can endure a long commute. Young parents tell me they’ve had to defer their dream of buying a bigger house with a backyard, either because they can’t afford it or don’t qualify for a mortgage. Instead, they’ve decided to stay put and renovate their city apartment or fix up their small house in an older, closer-in suburb. Empty nesters tell me they’ve decided to sell the big house, sometimes for a lot less than they could have gotten for it a few years ago, and buy a smaller condo or house closer to their kids in the city. These shifts, brought on by economic exigencies, are already adding up to a gradual but enduring change in the way we live – one that will prove every bit as consequential as the move towards suburban living was in the 1950s and 1960s.