Monday, February 02, 2009

There's no "Big Fix" to our mess; what about "generativity"?

The New York Times Magazine, on Sunday Feb. 1, had a couple of big-vision articles about where “we” are headed that have more interconnectedness than we thought.

David Leonhardt has a long essay “The Big Fix,” on p 22, link here. This time, there is no magic bullet to fix the economy. We don’t have the industrial revolution, semiconductors, the PC, or the Internet just to turn us around as after past recessions. We don’t have Reagan’s supply side economics. We don’t have Jimmy Carter’s Keynsianism. We don’t have job generation for war. Neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley can pull us out.

In fact, we were creating artificial prosperity by letting Wall Street create phony financial instruments that covered up growing indebtedness, sometimes by violating normal business ethics and accounting rules.

The next big change will be toward sustainability. While there are innovations (green technology and an Energy Internet), the payoff tends to be slower and not satisfying to bean counters. Infrastructure development benefits everyone and enables steady growth later but it doesn't always give the numbers investors and people want to see. (The author compares passenger train travel between the United States and France.)

The tone of the article suggests that the American people – indeed the entire western world – will need a new sense of generativity: a sense of measured consumption and personal gratification, a willingness to invest in vicarious immortality, that future generations decendant from us will have more again. Toward the end of the article there is a lot of discussion about education, which itself is reproductive. Teaching had become a somewhat second class occupation until the efforts at “career switching” became public a few years ago, but it still requires a mentality that one lives on through the accomplishments of those one has taught than one’s own.

There is another interesting piece by Emily Bazelon on p 30, “2 Kids + 0 Husbands – Family”, link here. The piece traces the large increase in “voluntary” single motherhood since 1960, and questions the idea that the kids are always worse off, at least when the mothers are well educated. The women stop dating, it seems, even as they add siblings. They feel empowered to expected older children to look after younger siblings, but that is a “power” that our culture used to say goes along as a perk of marriage (or having children within marriage). They look for unattached men not as romantic partners but as potential as “male role models” for their kids and may find some of the men don’t want to be expected to be seen that way by others.

It’s all interesting to watch if our culture is going to have to accept the idea of a future in other people rather than in visibility now.

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