Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Recession Can Actually Help You

American society has been built on the notion that you can spend your way to contentment. That has never been true, as most wealthy people will privately admit. They'll acknowledge they're on the hedonic treadmill, in which buying something new gives pleasure for an ever briefer time, forcing them to ever buy more and more expensive things to derive an ever briefer buyer's rush.

But now, the economy is not only in recession but has crushing structural problems:
  • Massive deficits and unfunded liabilities such as the Medicare Monster.
  • Poor ethics from top to bottom: from CEOs who encourage or condone ill-begotten profits to healthy workers who steal sick days, to priests who abuse parishioners, to students who cheat on tests (3/4 of high school and college students do.)
  • Uncontrolled immigration.
  • The growing trend to "redistributive justice," which reallocates resources from those most likely to boost the economy (businesses and above-average-income individuals) to society's lowest-achieving people. That short-term pleasure/long-term pain trend will only accelerate with a Democrat president. (Alas, I can't vote for an anti-choice, big-spending Republican. Where's a Philosopher King when you need one?)
  • A badly dysgenic birth rate, in which the people likely to contribute least to society have the most children.
  • Mixed-ability school classes ensuring racial equality but also that everyone learns less than they could and should.
Those factors combined with China and India's ascendancy will cause the U.S. economy to keep declining.

As a result, ever more Americans will be forced to find non-spending paths to contentment. My suggestions for the most likely sources of contentment:
  • A mission--either in your career, avocation, or serving God. (I'm an atheist but I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that many people find great contentment in their religion.)
  • A deep love--of a romantic partner, child, protege, or mentor.
  • A consuming hobby: writing, participation in community theatre, gardening, music, art, etc.
  • A determination to do as many good things as possible: random acts of kindness, uncommon courtesies, honesty when it benefits someone at your expense, etc.


Charles said...

Crushing structural problems?

What about corporate greed--reckless greed on a reckless scale?

According to The Economist, "By 2007 financial services were making 40% of America's corporate profits—while employing only 5% of its private-sector workers."

Now our government is loaning out billions of our tax dollars to bailout these unregulated financial institutions. Is this the market taking care of itself? Well, Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne is certainly taking care of himself.

Speaking of our government spending billions of our tax dollars...

What about the billions being spent every month on the Iraq war?

Billions here, billions there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

Maybe the next Republican president will authorize a large-scale eugenics program. Would that please you?

Marty Nemko said...

I couldn't agree more that corporate greed is a serious problem, and I'm delighted that the Fed will now likely exert more oversight on the financial services industry.

The term "eugenics" evokes horrible images--e.g., the Nazis. Of course, I oppose that. But I believe that an ETHICAL eugenics program is in society's best interests. What do I mean by ETHICAL eugenics? One which is completely voluntary, devoid of coercion. So, for example, expanded comprehensive sex education and availability of birth control, especially in communities with high teen pregnancy rates, would be, in my mind, eugenic, yet ethical.

Charles said...

Sure, teenage pregnancy is a problem, but I would submit that it's not nearly as big a problem as the greedy and corrupt politicians and financiers that are bleeding us dry. I'm sure that at some point many of those politicians and financiers were considered to be the best and brightest--even gifted. I read recently where students with doctorates in physics and other mathematical disciplines were hired directly out of graduate school by Wall Street firms to design complex financial instruments that almost no one can understand.

What good are the best and brightest if they serve the greedy and corrupt? Just because someone is smart and successful doesn't mean that they will act in the best interest of our society. In fact, our current situation would indicate quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Charles, I couldn't agree with you more. This notion that more taxpayer resources should be allocated to educate the "gifted" is very problematic unless there is a correlative synergy with moral and ethical behavior. To be honest, psychometricians are not nearly that accurate in determining and defining what is intelligence. Is it regurgitating what someone is pontificating about in a classroom, or is it the real world accurate perceptions of an individual who could see that Vietnam was not a menace to America but a nationalistic war to rid that country of Caucasoid domination.

Marty Nemko said...

i fully agree with the thoughtful comments of Charles and Anonymous: focusing on the gifted without building in an ethics component to their education would be unwise.

I raise two questions:

-- Is it fair to assert that giftedness and immorality are correlated? I believe, in fact, that most crime is committed by low IQ people.

-- Is there good reason to be confident that teaching ethics will make students' behavior more ethical? Nearly all college students and certainly business students are required to complete an ethics course. I believe that data does not support that such courses increase ethical behavior. I suspect that most people know what the ethical thing to do is--the problem is they too often CHOOSE to act unethically. I'm not convinced that any school-based program can make much dent in that problem. It can, I believe, only come from parents who, from Day 1, stress the larger goods that accrue from integrity than those that accrue from shoddy ethics.

I want to conclude this post by expressing my appreciation to Charles and Anonymous for their thoughtful posts and look forward to more of their ideas.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to imply that giftedness and morality was mutually exclusive. However, the people who have manufactured the dangerous economic conditions in the country currently probably were "gifted" individuals who scored high on standardized tests for private school, college, and professional or graduate school. I just don't know if our current state of knowledge about intelligence, without regards to the variables of family dynamics, environmental deficits, etc. warrants segregating out people based on flawed tests.

William James Sidis was supposedly the most intelligent person who ever lived. His mental feats were the stuff of legend, and he did things that neither Einstein, Newton, or Shakespeare did. Mastering multiple languages, some so arcane they hadn't been spoken in centuries. Sidis was a manufactured "genius". His parents set out to show that genius could be created, that it wasn't necessarily innate. They were successful in this endeavor. Interestingly, Sidis's father didn't believe in I.Q. tests. He thought them fraudulent, and believed that you could take any reasonably intelligent person and make them a "genius".

I think our society has drunk too much of the I.Q. kool aide. Too many people think that just because you score well on a test, they are entitled to make, uncritically, the kinds of decisions that result in Vietnam or the Bear Stearns debacle. Be very careful in advocating the appropriation of public resources to spawn some nebulous notion of being "gifte".

Anonymous said...

Instead, students should be divided by learning style. Useful observations from personality theory and Holland's career codes would be well applied toward education.

Marty Nemko said...

Alas, the validity of personality tests, for example, the Myers-Briggs is far worse than the public realizes.