Gayle Allard is a professor at Madrid's IE Business School.Stepping off the treadmill would not be a widely accepted solution in America, where we are told the solution for our economy is consumer spending: presumably on new houses, as well as iPods, iPads, TeeVee's, game boxes, and all the other paraphernalia that is supposed to constitute the successful life. There's nothing un-American about the sentiment in the quote, by the way (hard as it is to imagine any American saying it for publication). Over 150 years ago Thoreau wrote:
"They pass from a materialist to a post-materialist phase, where they start thinking more about quality of life and meaning of life," Allard says.
"The good thing about crisis is that maybe it awakens this other side of us, and helps us to step off the treadmill a bit, and think about why we're here — besides just paying a mortgage," she says.
I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? They have got to live a man's life, pushing all these things before them, and get on as well as they can. How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and woodlot! The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.The townspeople thought him irresponsible then. But are we alive only to be able to pay the mortgage? Or to engage in the right political thinking? Or to have the acceptable ideas among our group? Is that all there is?
And now, as if to prove nothing has changed since Thoreau's time, comes this:
Conard, who occasionally flashed a mean streak during our talks, started calling the group “art-history majors,” his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life. In Conard’s mind, this includes, surprisingly, people like lawyers, who opt for stable professions that don’t maximize their wealth-creating potential. He said the only way to persuade these “art-history majors” to join the fiercely competitive economic mechanism is to tempt them with extraordinary payoffs.
Conard is Edward Conard, who still works at Bain Capital, and gives Mitt Romney lots of money to run for President. His thesis is that America needs more rich people:
Unlike his former colleagues, Conard wants to have an open conversation about wealth. He has spent the last four years writing a book that he hopes will forever change the way we view the superrich’s role in our society. “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong,” to be published in hardcover next month by Portfolio, aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off.Which is only significant to me here because the only value Conard recognizes is the value of money. For example:
He looks, in particular, at agriculture, where, since the 1940s, the cost of food has steadily fallen because of a constant stream of innovations. While the businesses that profit from that innovation — like seed companies and fast-food restaurants — have made their owners rich, the average U.S. consumer has benefited far more.
Notice how that analysis doesn't take into account any of the other benefits of dining together, or the growing problem of obesity in America, a problem linked directly to fast-food consumption. Or take this example:
Conard picked up a soda can and pointed to the way the can’s side bent inward at the top. “I worked with the company that makes the machine that tapers that can,” he told me. That little taper allows manufacturers to make the same size can with a tiny bit less aluminum. “It saves a fraction of a penny on every can,” he said. “There are a lot of soda cans in the world. That means the economy can produce more cans with the same amount of resources. It makes every American who buys a soda can a little bit richer because their paycheck buys more.”
Money is the only value that is valuable. But then, it's no surprise Conrad says this:
“God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”Which runs so contrary to Genesis 1, you have to wonder which "God" Conrad is referring to. But then, what Conrad espouses is basically Plato's Republic, with people of great wealth replacing the philosopher kings:
At base, having a small elite with vast wealth is good for the poor and middle class. “From my perspective,” he wrote, “it’s not a close call.”The closest the article comes to considering that we might be here for more than paying the mortgage is these two sentences:
This constant calculation — even of the incalculable — can be both fascinating and absurd. The world Conard describes too often feels grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the nonrenumerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible.And the first one sets the tone: Conrad's weltanschaaung is not absurd or myopic; it is "fascinating." Well, maybe a little absurd; but mostly fascinating. Even the dissection of it is done in terms of economic theory, not in terms of the true value of human existence. Nothing post-materialist here; not really.
How thoroughly American.....