Sunday, March 11, 2012

The end of American exceptionalism?

David Brooks has long argued that Americans are becoming more conservative and reembracing older values. According to a recent NYT article (“The Go-Nowhere Generation”), this may be partly true. It says that even before the crisis young Americans had become almost twice less likely to move across state borders or to even leave the family nest. The authors argue it would be terrible for Americans to become risk-averse, and twenty-somethings should not think twice before hopping on a Greyhound bus that will take them to a neighboring state with lower unemployment numbers. 
In their view, American society needs “to reward and encourage forward movement, not slouching. They are also worried that young Americans are becoming more fatalistic – “kids who grow up during tough economic times also tend to believe that luck plays a bigger role in their success, which breeds complacency.” My first thought about risk aversion was: yes, it was precisely slouching that precipitated the current economic downturn. And how about the new sense of fatalism? All I can say is – welcome on board! This is precisely how the vast majority of spaceship Earth’s crew has always looked at life – and, I am afraid, will continue to do so to the chagrin of upbeat modernizers. Oh, but maybe I should not be too fatalistic about this. 

P.S. One of the authors of the NYT piece, Todd G. Buchholz, recently published a book called “Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race.” Why not, really? The second author, Victoria Buchholz (apparently Todd’s daughter) is still a student at Oxford, but is already “at work on a book about the neuropsychology of the teenage brain.” This project should give her the opportunity to explain precisely why young Americans are embracing these misguided, deeply unproductive attitudes. At this point, father and daughter offer the following hunch: "Perhaps young people are too happy at home checking Facebook." One study ostensibly "found that when young people spent more time on the Internet, they delayed getting their driver’s licenses."