Paradox of Prosperity

“A paradox of prosperity is revealed and shown to be stable in the cycles of economic advancement between generations. I would put the matter this way: If one accepts, for example, that Mr. Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’ were characterized by prudence, diligence, and patriotism in deed rather than word, that very generation produced its opposite in the generation that followed it. That is to say, I have found it repeated across the ages and across cultures, that the more diligent a previous generation, as a natural propensity, the more licentious the generation that follows. Invariably therefore, the generation that exhibits the more cogent properties of character for the best sort of citizenship fails to produce a generation of the same or similar characteristics.”



“Paradox of Prosperity” was applied as a term of analysis in the recent New York Times, Wall Street Journal bestseller Rescue America: Our best America is only one generation away (published October 2011), which Professor Morris co-authored with Chris Salamone. There the inter-generational breakdown is given a fuller exposition. Morris, who has been a careful reader of Thorstein Veblen, particularly Veblen’s masterpiece The Theory of the Leisure Class, says his own advancement of this inter-generational thesis was influenced by Veblen. “I think”, says Morris, “Veblen gave some insight as to what is produced in the generation which follows one such as Tom Brokaw described. The Greatest Generations – if by that we mean a generation characterized by prudence and sacrifice – nearly always produces a generation which can be characterized as a leisure class. They consume without manufacturing. They project feelings over principles. In general terms, they lack a spirit of sacrifice because they abhor the notion of “Objective Values” and so lack the will to re-create or advance the social ethos created by their parent’s generation.” In cultural terms, the generation that followed the “Greatest Generation” were the baby boomers (essentially, the children of the Greatest Generation between 1945–1965). The “Boomers” fit the classic definition of a “leisure class”, which Veblen described as being characterized by Conspicuous Consumption.  To quote their description of their leisure class “they move values toward behavior, rather than behavior toward values”.



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