Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Low-Hanging Fruit Is Picked and the Young Generation Is Spoiled - Really?

The conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks discusses Tyler Cowen's book The Great Stagnation in The Experience Economy. Cowen writes that the growth stopped in 1974 - the year before the Vietnam War ended. He attributes this to the fact that the United States by then had picked the "low-hanging fruit," resulting in "slower growth, slower increases in median income, slower job creation, slower productivity gains, slower life-expectancy improvements and slower rates of technological change." (Brooks) 

What happens when the music stops? Well, at first it looks like David Brooks is going to adress the really interesting discussion of what we are doing with our wealth and technological prowes, but his conservative superego quickly pulls him by the ear and leads him down the isle of repentance:
"It could be that in an industrial economy people develop a materialist mind-set and believe that improving their income is the same thing as improving their quality of life. But in an affluent information-driven world, people embrace the postmaterialist mind-set. They realize they can improve their quality of life without actually producing more wealth."
He then introduces us to Sam and Jared, a fictional grandfather and his grandson. Sam was born in 1900 and was a hard working manufacturer, while young Jared, born in 1978, "organizes conferences... brings together fascinating speakers for lifelong learning" when not writing his "blog on modern art and takes his family on vacations that are more daring and exciting than any Sam experienced."

Here we have the crux of problem: Young Jared doesn't want to do the heavy lifting his grandfather did. Oh, those lazy young people.... David Brooks tweaks the story in a predictably conservative fashion, rather than pointing out that it was thanks to big government, sponsoring big science, big production, big highways, big social programs and big space programs that helped us achieve all that post-world war economic growth. Unfortunately, we also had the big Vietnam War and the big unproductive military spending that went with it, undermining America's long-term economic potential. But why mention all these complications when it so easy to point to the moral softening of the young generation.

Hans Sandberg

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