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September 18, 2000A Jigsaw Puzzle

On a recent cruise, I joined four of our band upstairs in the movie room to work on a jigsaw puzzle while the VCR plugged away in the background.

The puzzle was a 2,000-piece Millennium affair that pictured a hundred or better of the luminaries from the last 1,000 years, ranging from Galileo to Martin Luther to Hitler. My colleagues looked at the picture on the cover and then focused on putting together each of the superstars, one by one. Not wanting to peek, I instead worked on the sky and other solid patches of color. As Kant, Plato, and others have told us, you pick your problems by picking your framework.

Methinks our attempts to master the New Economy are not unlike doing a jigsaw puzzle without a view of the Big Picture. We have all the pieces, but we don't have a clue as to how to put them together. So we blunder on.

That said, we still know the color of the future. It is green, not digital black and white. Environmental, not virtual. Global, not parochial.  Despite John Welch's epiphany over the Internet, it is GE's crusade, at long last, to make itself more global that will drive it into the 21st century, even in spite of the economies it is wringing out of its digital purchasing system.

The new logic of global economics is forcing country-by-country deregulation and, to some degree, increased global competitiveness. It is this development, for instance, that is making possible the advent of the micropower generation about which we talk this week.

We say "some increased competitiveness" because deregulation is also leading to massive consolidation (especially in financial services) and to a host of anti-competitive practices. Moreover, geographic areas that have difficulty with democracy (central Europe and Japan, for instance) are having trouble getting deregulation done. In the United States, the states that are inherently less democratic often have more trouble ending monopolies and artificially high costs than those where the populace decided to have an emphatic say in matters. By the way, take a look at this week's note on Larry Sidentop's book Democracy in Europe, which should be entitled "The Lack of Democracy in the New Europe."

Well, if this is not the Digital Hour, but rather the Macromoment--when the defining current in our economy comes from its global connection--then you are very right if you think we are hearing too much about George Gilder. Broadband George is trumpeting the microcosm, but what it's all about now is the Macrochasm between the rich and poor nations, between big ideas and rearranging-the-deck-chairs economics. With Internet viewership growth dropping from the double-digits to well under 10%, we had best cast our eyes on Ireland, Australia, and other ports of call that are flourishing because they have found a place in the sun and in the international trade lanes. It is the global connection that is filling national cash registers.

From August 24 through 26, central bankers came to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a symposium put on by the Federal Bank of Kansas City. Clearly bankers like fishing better than wheat and barbecue. At any rate, they were supposed to talk about global economic integration. Since it is their gab, more than Silicon Valley chitter-chatter, that could make a difference in a billion lives, we hope they got something done.

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