Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A little perspective?

I was checking out Clark Stooksbury's blog and I saw this quote from his review of Bil McKibeen's Deep Economy:

Since World War II, the United States has grown fantastically wealthy and, consequently, Americans consume mightily, but we haven't become happier than we were a half-century ago. In fact, the trend lines are moving in the opposite direction. The author details, via numerous studies, the grim results of our explosion of prosperity. The results indicate that, beyond a point, we are less happy with more stuff. He even notes one recent study indicating that the “ average American child reported now higher levels of anxiety than the average child under psychiatric care in the 1950s: our new normal is the old disturbed.”

That's pretty unsettling. I'm working on some kind of grand unified theory that revolves around the way we've lost all sense of perspective as a culture. We'll see how it goes...


Steve said...

I've seen other studies like this, all of which point to the idea that we have more anxiety about the *future* than we did in the 1950s. In other words "more stuff" is less important to our general happiness than our sense of optimism about what the future will bring.

In some ways this is odd because of the whole threat of nuclear holocaust in the 1950s, which has largely gone away. But in more significant ways I can understand it. Coming out of WWII and the Depression, the US was ascendant and enormously prosperous. *Everyone* was making money (not just the top 1%) and the middle class was growing. Today we have growing inequality, stagnant wages for the middle class, and a general sense that the US is on the economic decline, challenged by cheap labor from abroad.

Bigger TVs can't shake our sense that we've peaked as a nation. People aren't saving money; they're spending it on more stuff. There's something frantic about our acquisitiveness. So in fact I don't think this anxiety shows a lack of perspective at all.

Jon Hastings said...

Huh. So, in the 1950s there was a real fear of the world being destroyed. Now, there's a fear that the US is on the decline. "World Might Be Destroyed in Nuclear Holocaust" strikes me as being a lot more serious than "US No Longer On Top". If anything, we should be less anxious.

Steve said...

Well, "the world might be destroyed" didn't go to our sense of ourself as a nation. It was an impersonal, external threat, like a tornado or earthquake. But "we're no longer on top" feels more like a personal failure, like we're doing something fundamentally wrong.

What's the percentage of people polled who say that the country is going in the wrong direction? It's pretty high.