Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks

The Patriot is taking Jack and heading for Florida to celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays with the parents. It will feel strange to be wearing a golf shirt and shorts on what is usually a blustery day here in the northeast, but I suppose we should all get accustomed to the effects of global warming and this will be a good start. Plus I can go to the beach and even fit in a couple of dives assuming my nagging head cold clears up by Saturday. I’m flying out of Newark tomorrow morning, Thanksgiving Day. I learned last year after a 27 hour nightmare trip to Oklahoma City that flying the day before the holiday is a recipe for total disaster. Hopefully the airlines will have worked out any massive delay issues by tomorrow morning.

To get into the spirit of Thanksgiving on my morning commute I was ruminating on American gluttony and consumer culture. Despite the fact that a barrel of oil is approaching the $100 level, sales of trucks and SUV’s were actually up last quarter. Americans are so addicted to their lifestyles that a few more dollars at the pump certainly isn’t going to interfere with their favorite sport-spending money they don’t have. These are the same overextended Americans who are losing their homes at a record rate because they took out $500,000 mortgages while bringing in an average yearly income somewhere in the $36,000 range. Who on earth actually needs a 3500 square foot house besides a family with eleven children? Well, we’re told that WE do. We’re entitled to one. We’re Americans and therefore deserving of a larger share of the world’s resources, even if we can’t afford it. I am the biggest anarchist around, but even I have a hard time blaming the banks for this real estate mess. Greed drove the market to unsustainable heights and hubris brought it crashing back to earth. PT Barnum had it right a hundred years ago, there really is a sucker born every minute. These suckers who think that there should be “less government” are now running to the feds begging for a bail-out. As a wise friend noted in a text this morning, “self-reflection and sustainability are not embedded in the archetypical American identity.” Indeed. It’s bad enough that we are self-destructing economically here at home-the weak dollar, the mortgage mess, the spasms in the markets, etc., but we are exporting our American Exceptionalism to the rest of the world, often at the point of a gun. And we’re not even running out of oil yet. Imagine how many countries we’ll have to invade when things get really tight?

Of course it may not come to that. Thomas Friedman (the NY Times Op-Ed contributor) in his recent book, The World Is Flat recounts a journey to Bangalore, India, when he realized globalization has changed core economic concepts. Due to this discovery, he suggests the world is "flat" in the sense that globalization has leveled the competitive playing fields between industrial and emerging market countries. Americans now compete for jobs not only with other Americans, but with the most brilliant minds around the globe. This does not bode well for future generations of Americans when one considers the pathetic state of our educational system and general lazyness. The number of American college students now studying math, science, and engineering is at a dramatic low yet students in China and India are now graduating their own cadres of mathematicians, scientists and engineers that outnumber America's by prodigious margins. And these people are hungry. They look at the American shining City on the Hill and want it for themselves. And who are we to tell them they can’t have it? The rest of the world doesn’t believe in American Exceptionalism. They believe in Indian and Chinese Exceptionalism. The problem is that there are nowhere near enough resources on planet earth to allow a billion Chinese people to live the American lifestyle. So what do you think is going to happen? My guess is that we will eventually rip each other apart with nasty wars over dwindling resources unless the idea of diminished consumption and the virtue of conservation are sewn into the fabric of our domestic and foreign policy. How likely is that to happen in a capitalist system?

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving y’all. Remember the needy, since the government can't be bothered. Also, heritage turkeys aren't just for yuppies anymore. They're tasty and good for the environment; a win win.


portinexile said...

too true amigo. when are you coming to see me in texas?

portinexile said...

i guess that's a 'never'?