American Economics

In the days following Sept.11, 2001 the American people stood united in a way that seems to only come when our national security is threatened. Collectively the country seemed to ask of its president, “What can WE do?” The president’s answer? “Keep buying, keep shopping. If you don’t, the terrorists win”

I was dumbfounded.!

It became very apparent then that our society’s economy was a house of cards that could collapse at any moment. The fabric of our culture had become entwined with the need for ever increasing business profits. Any blip…any curb to a growing GDP would be crippling.

In 1992 I was on a flight from Seoul to New York. I was seated next to a young woman who had just spent the last year in Japan. We had a lively conversation about our experiences in Asia. She mentioned though how disappointed she was that Japanese culture was so intertwined with business. She went on to explain that the current generation had only known ever increasing economic growth but at some point there had to be a bump and when that happens, “they’ll be jumping out of windows because there is nothing in their lives that defines them other than business.” Well, the 1990’s did take their toll on Japan, and yes, there were many people there that jumped out of windows.

America now finds itself in a similar situation. I think our shear narcissism will save us from large numbers of suicides. Americans manage depression in a manner different than their Asian counterparts and prefer numbing their senses with entertainment, alcohol, pornography, and drugs to jumping out of windows. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that each succeeding generation has to have a “better” and more luxurious lifestyle than the one before us. I just saw a statement by the director of the FCC that noted with the switch to digital from analog broadcasting, 3 million “at risk” Americans would find themselves without television.

Only in America can the term “at risk” be used to describe someone who might have their T.V. shut off.

David Brooks, in a wonderfully written op-ed piece for the New York Times notes that in order to bring some semblance back to our national economy, Americans will have to increase their household savings from a present 4 percent to 10percent through 2018. He notes that this will produce a large drag on our economy that we as a country must be willing to accept.

He goes on to say:
“But it’s the political challenges that will be most hellacious. Basically, everything that a politician might do to make voters happier in the near term will have horrible long-term consequences. Stimulate the economy too much now and you wind up with ruinous inflation down the road. Preserve failing companies and you wind up with Japanese stagnation. Cushion the decline in living standards with easy money now and you just move from a housing bubble to a commodities bubble.
The members of the political class face a set of monumental tasks. First, they have to persuade a country to postpone gratification for the sake of rebuilding the country. This country hasn’t accepted sacrifice in 50 years.”

The American people will have to get back to the basics that made our culture and society one that has been the envy of the world for more than 100 years. That will mean that a person comes home from work to their spouse and children with the satisfaction of a hard day’s work and gratification being nothing more than togetherness under a roof with a full belly.

And then maybe…just maybe…flip the TV on to enjoy a good movie with a slice of cheese and a glass of wine.

2 comments

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  • Hey Steve — Brooks is right, lots of contradictory information out there. Best thing to do is work hard (if you can keep your job), save as much as you can, give as much as you can and enjoy the fruits of your labors. I’ll take an occasional cold beer over a glass of wine but we’re agreed on the concept.

    I have always thougt Bush did a pretty good job in the wake of Sept. 11 except for the statement you cited. We’ve been attacked so go shopping . . . . oops.

  • Bob,

    Yeah, I didn’t mean to put all the blame on Bush…I just always thought that mindset personified America’s problem as a whole.

    And I enjoy a cold beer as well 🙂

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