The answer is straightforward and known: build intangible assets. (Intangible assets includ knowledge, trusting relationships, new processes, improved health, creativity.)
In his column in the NYTimes, Paul Krugman equates 2010 with 1938, in terms of government stimulus, and in particular comments that we won't have the "benefit" of 1940 to pull us out. He also goes on and on about deficit spending.
But it's not ANY spending! That's as absurd as believing that throwing money at any entrepreneur with any product idea is going to create a viable new industry.
It's not "deficit spending" at all, in fact - it's "debt-based investment" in the future, specifically investment in those building blocks we know will lead to economic growth.
During a war, we "deficit spend" by investing in wartime technology research, which links together scientists and engineers in working relationships, and creates new knowledge, some of which can be applied during peaceful times; plus there's the added market post-war to replace all the stuff that was destroyed.*
We DON'T need to "deficit spend," and we don't need to have work programs just to get people to use their existing skills for the time being -- we're just postponing the inevitable. (Dear my government: please stop paying people to repave existing perfectly good roads! It's a poor investment and I can't get to work!)
We DO need to determine which scenarios to look at going forward, we need to determine what markets will emerge, we need to train people for those markets and encourage forming relationships and facilitating social structures that help people transition from one situation to the next.
But it’s both instructive and discouraging to look at the state of America circa 1938 — instructive because the nature of the recovery that followed refutes the arguments dominating today’s public debate, discouraging because it’s hard to see anything like the miracle of the 1940s happening again.
The "miracle"?! Actually I think the inevitability of war after prolonged global depression and partial collapse of the middle class isn't so far-fetched. We may yet experience the "miracle" of 1940 if we don't commit to making ourselves relevant to the future needs of our households and communities, either directly or through the industry of our businesses.
* War looks like a good return on investment, but that's only because we don't monitor the actual costs, we just lump them under "tragic!" and press on. Those costs begin with the people, who are never accounted for financially so we don't notice deaths, emotional trauma or resentment, which can persist for say, 60 years (so far), spawning new wars, economic hardship and suffering. We don't count the destruction of historic record, art, or existing relationships and knowledge. We do count veterans benefit payments; but we don't count the lost productivity of young men and women who have been injured or made ill by the war, nor the cost to their families.