These are indeed difficult times. Businesses built for the industrial age are failing; jobs and businesses are disappearing, tax revenue is down. What we need to do now is not to prop up the past, but rather to prepare for the future: the kinds of economics that will thrive in a greener and largely knowledge-based economy.
At a time like this, it is fortunate indeed that we already have open access to a considerable portion of the world's collective knowledge. We can readily share our scholarly knowledge with the developing world, at no cost. Many scholars in the developing world are freely sharing their knowledge through open access, and this is a very good thing, as the developing world has a bit of an advantage right now; they are used to having less money, and so have lots of ideas and incentive to develop the kinds of low-cost solutions that we in the developing world could use right about now. This topic is explored in more depth in my post Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Open Access, the Developing World, and the Cost-Effective Solution.
Through services like libraries, the Scientific Commons, Internet search engines, and the Directory of Open Access Journals, any bright person with no job but even as much as a modicum of curiosity can be learning, and many, I hear, are already doing so by returning to formal education. If even a small fraction of those in this situation focus on this learning, and a small fraction of this learning yields brilliant ideas for new ways of doing things, all it takes is a spark of an entrepreneurial spirit - and an open, neutral network - to get a start on the types of businesses that can sustain families and communities, or even thrive and grow into new economic engines.
Other thoughts to kickstart the new economy
In addition to an open internet, to kickstart this type of new business, it would be a good idea for governments examine how easy or difficult it is to start up a new business. While we all need protection from spam and fraud, it should be possible for an honest citizen to set up a new, simple web-based business to sell their own works or services and figure out how to pay their taxes, in just a few clicks. Maybe other countries have this figured out, but in Canada there are people with good ideas and business plans who are totally stymied but the apparently insoluble problem of how to start up a business and pay your taxes like a good citizen. Who knows, if this was made easy enough, I just might have IPJE Commercial (for t-shirt sales and stuff) up and running, already. Maybe I'd have enough sales to have to hire someone to help out.
Make microloans available. Sure, we'd all like to have big businesses employing lots of people in high-paying jobs, but let's not forget that may of these big businesses started out in someone's garage. And if all people want to do is to support or help support their families and communities, there is nothing wrong with that!
Support people who want to try out a micro-business idea. Look at this as a reasonable option for people on employment supports, especially in areas where there aren't a lot of immediate job prospects.
This post is a part of the Creative Globalization and Essential Efficiencies Series.