Telework – The Newest New Deal?

Obama, when he becomes President in a couple of weeks, will be faced with a situation similar to the one that faced Roosevelt in the early 1930’s. There are some major differences this time–including huge challenges in health care, energy, environment, crumbling infrastructure, and automobile dinosaurs that are teetering on extinction–but the problem is the same. People aren’t spending money.

How did we get ourselves into this mess? The trouble started 20-30 years ago when the shop-till-you-drop mentality took over and credit cards, not savings books, became a prized possession. Add to that the titillating but unrealistic attitudes taught indirectly on television, and now, as a nation and as individuals, we’re broke financially and ethically. We’ve lost touch with reality. Americans, for example, save -0.5% of their income–they spend more than they make. But you can juggle credit cards only so long.

So how do we stimulate economic growth? The answer is potentially good news for people who want to work at home.

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People need jobs and they need jobs that are green. That’s e-work, telecommuting, telework, freelancing, home based businesses. But what’s slowing down adoption of the e-work model? Besides managers stuck in a ’30s typing-pool mentality, it’s infrastructure–broadband communications and ubiquitous wi-fi.

America has changed from an industrial economy to an information economy, but we haven’t built the facilities needed to support this new kind of work. In the thirties we built dams for electricity and highways for transportation. Today we need clean energy too and electronic highways. If we just put people to work building more roads we’ll only encourage more of the same problems that put us where we are. If we build infrastructure that supports a work-at-home model we can solve economic and environmental problems at the same time.

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