09 September 2010

Waking Up From the American Dream

David Brooks has an interesting column in which he essentially gives a platform for David Platt.

Platt is a preacher who thinks that it is time for us to give up the American dream of living better. This reconsideration of the American dream is not unique to the religious world. People like Michael Polan, who argue for eating locally grown foods, are also suggesting that health and happiness might lie down a path of moderated consumption.

I am sympathetic to these notions. I've argued more than once that one of the characteristics of the new economy will be a shift from an emphasis on quantity of goods to quality of life. But I think that Platt probably gets something wrong.

Progress rarely means going back. The way out is forward.

In the early 1900s, consumer credit and the birth of mass consumption that made mass production profitable was challenged by the religous groups. They pointed to Paul's injunction to "owe no man" as evidence of God's disapproval of credit. For them, credit was a social evil and the thought that people might be free to buy goods simply because these made them happy was itself a little sinful.

But credit is an essential part of the modern economy and so is consumption. I do think that we'll consume fewer "things" in the future. Already we've shifted to spending an increasing amount of money on virtual products rather than real ones.

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