Today in The New York Times, columnist David Brooks writes about "The Great Seduction." Money. Wealth. Debt. He writes:
Brooks cites a new report by the Institute for American Values and other think tanks called, “For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture.” He points out that our debt culture has made millions for many, and made the less fortunate more vulnerable.
The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal.
Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.
Social norms, the invisible threads that guide behavior, have deteriorated. Over the past years, Americans have been more socially conscious about protecting the environment and inhaling tobacco. They have become less socially conscious about money and debt.Blame gets placed just about everywhere: the federal government, Congress, the White House, state governments (lotteries), payday lenders, credit card companies, Wall Street and so on. Brooks also points readers to another article, "A Nation in Debt" by Barbara Whitehead, that summarizes the report.
What strikes us in all this is the people in charge of all of those institutions over the last 30 years haven't been Boomers. But "we" Boomers are now considered the "they" running all of those institutions now. It's going to be up to us to fix these things.
Unfortunately, our track record to date has been poor. Fareed Zakaria, an author and editor for Newsweek, in a story about "Getting Back to Growth" quotes David Gergen:
“With the end of the cold war, we saw a new, destructive kind of partisanship,” says David Gergen, who has worked in Republican and Democratic White Houses. “And for much of the past decade, we’ve kicked the can down the road on our big problems.”He's talking about Boomers. So are we going to do anything about it, or simple move aside?
Some of this is because of the narrowcasting of American politics, a process in which the extreme ends of the spectrum have been magnified and the center gets lost. Part of it, Gergen argues, is generational. “I have a distinct memory that the World War II generation really put country ahead of party. That is simply not the case with the generation in power now."