Do we care about tomorrow?

This morning, Gene directs me to an article in the New York Review of Books, by Tony Judt, taken from his new book Ill Fares the Land. I entirely agree with Gene that this is a very important article/book indeed. It describes where we are presently as a society, compares that to where we were until the 80’s, and compares quality of life measurement with our sister nations – mostly Europe – where financial and social practices track our own to a large extent.

The article reads well even to the economic novice and includes clear graphs measuring his premises. The gist is that we have turned away from being a social democracy invested in our future and well being, to an increasingly unequal society with collapsing infrastructure increasingly beholden to the moneyed class whose interests are not the good of this nation but only of their own wealth. It’s a fine read for tax day – makes me want to pay more taxes.  It does.

Some outtakes that struck me:

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.  —Adam Smith

“Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers.

“. . . Poverty is an abstraction, even for the poor. But the symptoms of collective impoverishment are all about us. Broken highways, bankrupt cities, collapsing bridges, failed schools, the unemployed, the underpaid, and the uninsured: all suggest a collective failure of will. These shortcomings are so endemic that we no longer know how to talk about what is wrong, much less set about repairing it. And yet something is seriously amiss. Even as the US budgets tens of billions of dollars on a futile military campaign in Afghanistan, we fret nervously at the implications of any increase in public spending on social services or infrastructure.

“. . . The consequences are clear. There has been a collapse in intergenerational mobility: in contrast to their parents and grandparents, children today in the UK as in the US have very little expectation of improving upon the condition into which they were born.

“. . . Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice toward those on the lower rungs of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed

“. . . Although countries as far apart as New Zealand and Denmark, France and Brazil have expressed periodic interest in deregulation, none has matched Britain or the United States in their unwavering thirty-year commitment to the unraveling of decades of social legislation and economic oversight.”

Well worth a read. And well worth some thought.

11 responses to “Do we care about tomorrow?

  1. [ moneyed class whose interests are not the good of this nation but only of their own wealth ]

    Spot-on.

    I’ve given this some thought lately.. How some want (and need) to live a just and good society for all, while some don’t care, and a little handful actively enjoys stepping on others. It’s a depressing topic..

    But the balances can always be shifted for the better.

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    • I always think that’s what progressives stand for . . . . shifting that balance for the better.

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      • ..and that’s a tangible political motivation. not so ideological either – but just making more people care for others and the community..

        ..or rather discover their basic natural instincts, as we’re deeply social animals. i’m so tired of selfish people talking about the emptiness of life.. it’s just their own living against their collective nature.. it’s so silly and sad..

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        • [living against their collective nature..]

          Exactly. The celebration of the individual, the mockery of ‘community’. And the worst, what feels like absolute abandonment of a desire to invest in our own future. Aaaggghhh.

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          • It is frustrating is it not? Especially when the media cannot or will not look through any other prism but that of ruthless capitalism with a splash of self-aggrandizement.

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            • Long time, Arb!
              Just a philosophical follow-up; u think the commercial media is pushing this for profits, or is it just the human brain that’s hardwired for big fantasies about personal success and greed?
              Or what’s the mix?

              I mean you can warn young people about the pitfalls of narrow self-interest, but it’s like the choice of Achilles all over – rather die young and glorious than a long dull life..

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              • u think the commercial media is pushing this for profits, or is it just the human brain that’s hardwired for big fantasies about personal success and greed

                I think we are wired for both a competitive and cooperative existence. What we become is largely a product of our environment.

                The message as of late has been “Consumption will make you happy”. If we change that message, we will change how people act toward each other and the environment in general.

                It is a slow process, but you can see glimmers of it here and there. The green movement so on and so forth…

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                • You both appreciate the importance of words – over the last three decades, since Reagan ‘unleashed’ capitalism, we have gone from being ‘citizens’ to being ‘consumers’. We have gone from being ‘Americans’ to being ‘the American family’.

                  And we have gone from having a sense of a common purpose and voice, to desperately sorting ourselves into tribes.

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  2. Looks like I have another book to add to my pile. Nice catch Moe. 🙂

    Although I may have to back burner it, this sorta stuff is a little dark and depressing. I need to read some sci-fi or fantasy first.

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  3. Sci fi! Sci fi! Try some of the older, 50’s era stuff. It’s great. Like John Wyndham’s Chocky. Or Gregory Benford’s Timescape, which is an alternate universe, time travel, real science delight.

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