American Consequences - April 2020

Let’s keep things simple?” Would 1 B.C. have been a good time to hit “pause?” Or July 3, 1776? Or on the eve of the 1964 Civil Rights vote? It’s a good thing Teddy Roosevelt did not lock us into the standard of living of 1904, or we would never fly on airplanes, get a polio vaccine, or expect to live past age 50. Nor would we have seen the grace of Fred and Ginger’s waltz, the magic of Michael Jordan’s last shot at the buzzer, or that moment when Luciano Pavarotti unsheathes a titanium- tipped high B and sings “Vincerò!” (“I will win”) in Nessun Dorma. With all due respect to medicine men, who sometimes come across herbal tonics, it was daring science in modern laboratories and not the jungle that produced Jonas Salk. Grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation helped, too. The coronavirus will be licked in a similar way. Without the free markets of the 20th century, we’d still be, as Milton Berle said, “watching television by candlelight.” We cannot know what we will miss if we halt our climb toward greater affluence. Now is not the time to stop. Todd G. Buchholz has served as White House director of economic policy and managing director of the legendary Tiger hedge fund. He was awarded the annual teaching prize in economics at Harvard, was named one of the “21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century” by Successful Meetings magazine, and is the author of numerous books, most recently, The Price of Prosperity (HarperCollins). Follow him on Twitter at @econTodd.

and hurl rocks into plate glass windows at Starbucks? No doubt, amid the periodic financial wreckage, we all feel cheated by the crooked CEO, the mortgage broker moron, or the short seller who sneaks falsities into the market. And we feel a natural yearning to go back to simpler times, to some Eden that exists in our Jungian memory. Maybe throwing rocks will remind us of how happy we were during the Stone Age. But singing “Kum Ba Yah” does not work. Sitting around a metaphoric campfire, holding hands, and singing communal songs does not make human beings happy. Sweaty, yes. Sooty, perhaps... but not happy. More tourists have trampled on Thoreau’s Walden Pond snapping photos than have seriously considered giving up their cell phones to pick berries. We are delighted to try pomegranate juice – in the hope of finding the secret to clear skin and lower blood pressure – but virtually no American will plant his own bush and give up streaming video or even accept a slower download speed on WiFi. We may embrace symbols of a more homemade life, but these are tokens of wishful thinking... not titanic changes of substance. So why don’t we just call a truce, an end to consumerism, materialism, and struggling for more? The problem is you cannot chop off our drive to compete without expelling the good things in life that will come from it. At what point in time in the past should people have declared, “Stop! Enough progress.

American Consequences


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