Saturday, November 22, 2008

Being Seduced

The Great Seduction

The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. (Well, in some ways they did; benefiting from an economic system of free labor in both the North and South that reduced people to property was in no way moral. Yet, we progress onward to that "more perfect union.") The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance, and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors, and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.

The United Stats has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it reminded industrious, ambitious, and frugal.

Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spend 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 the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.

David Brooks
The New York Times
June 10, 2008

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this piece. What do you think? Can we turn things around? How might we do so?


John O'Leary said...

Judith, Mr. Brooks has been making sense to me lately. I loved the round table chat this morning on "This Week with George Stephanopolous."
I wish I could watch George Will and Bob Kuttner go at it more often.

judith ellis said...

John - I'm sorry I missed it. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out. I have always pretty much liked the rationality of Mr. Brooks. At times, he seems a little too far to the right, but overall I like him.