The events on Wall Street, the collapse of Lehman and the selling off of Merrill are magnificent and inspiring events. What we see here are examples of sweeping and fundamental change taking place, a huge upheaval that affects the whole of society, and toward the better, since what we have going on here is a massive reallocation of resources away from failing uses toward more productive uses.
Hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars are on the move, sweeping all before them. And yet take note: it is not war accomplishing this. It is not violence. It is not the result of a planning committee. No election is necessary. No terrorist act took place. There was no government edict.
The agent of change here is that composite of all the world’s exchanges that relentlessly shove resources this way and that way, so that they will find their most economically valued uses in society.
No one person is in charge. Layers upon layers of decisions by millions and billions of people are the essential mechanism that makes the process move forward. All these decisions and choices and guesses come to be aggregated in a single number called the price, and that price can then be used in that simple calculation that indicates success or failure. Every instant of time all around the world that calculation is made, and it results in shifts and movement and progress.
But as wonderful as the daily shifts and movements are, what really inspires are the massive acts of creative destruction such as when old-line firms like Lehman and Merrill melt before our eyes, their good assets transferred to more competent hands and their bad liabilities banished from the face of the earth.
This is the kind of shock and awe we should all celebrate. It is contrary to the wish of all the principal players and it accords with the will of society as a whole and the dictate of the market that waste not last and last. No matter how large, how entrenched, how exalted the institution, it is always vulnerable to being blown away by market forces — no more or less so than the lemonade stand down the street.
The need for dramatic shifts is essential for progress. But adapting to changing conditions and becoming an agent of that change, staying with the curve and jumping out in front of it — this is the real challenge. Enacting change — any kind of change but especially big and fundamental change — sometimes seems impossible in this world. We all desire it and know it is necessary. Seeking the reality of rebirth has an appeal. But finding the mechanism to make it happen is hugely difficult.