A few months ago, I remember seeing a collage of images that put a picture of a broken iPod together with the iconic photo of the young Kent State student kneeling over a dead protester. Though I mentally derided it, immediately identifying it as hippie propaganda, part of me smiled inside. The poster coincided well with the disillusionment that I feel with the dangerous combination of indifference to real problems and materialism that marks our culture.
A generation, whose character is thus marked by every tendency that may define a tyrant, is unfit to rule a free people – though we declared independence from a combination of apathy toward the human condition and greed 231 years ago, it slowly is pervading our way of thinking. Nonetheless, as Generation Y emerges from college and becomes the driving force of the American economy, there is still plenty of time for improvement.
“Peoplenomics” is a concept championed by Nelson Hoffman ’55, a presenter at this weekend’s Sustainability Conference, which stresses the need to improve all Americans’ quality of life to enrich our nation’s fiscal health. While a self-interested American company will look overseas to maximize profits, such a decision will take its toll on the country’s economic base. Only by acknowledging the impact that economic decisions can have on a community and/or a country, by realizing the debt of honor that is owed to the working class, will the wealthy truly improve the nation’s economy.
The moneyed class has a vested interest in improving the lot of all Americans. Take, for example, the logic employed by the University when it solicits donations from its alumni: “Even though you may receive little or no direct benefit from your donation, the long-term profitability of your degree is contingent on the economic and educational reputation of the University, so it is in your best interest to empty your pockets for us.”
To an extent, this behavior models an aspect of evolution that puts an emphasis on altruistic behavior. Very often, analysis of Darwin’s theory of evolution as it relates to the economic status quo is limited to the concept of “survival of the fittest” – that the rich were meant to be rich and the poor will inevitably remain poor. However, theories about evolution have grown to include the concept of kin selection: an individual, by eschewing direct benefits and helping out its family members, will pass its genetic material on to another generation. If success of a species (or an economy) is defined as passing on one’s genes (or wealth) to another generation, this result may be better than if this individual sought to eliminate the weaker competition (as in the case of the canonical views of economic Darwinism). Therefore, the countries that espouse this corollary to “survival of the fittest,” that evolution also may entail altruistic behavior, will ultimately prevail economically.
The upper economic echelon of this country should adopt a similar attitude. Logically speaking, hoarding capital can only go so far as a means to increase one’s wealth. There reaches a certain point when the wealth is so concentrated that the economy declines as a whole; the per capita GDP declines and the dollar becomes devalued. As a result, in relation to other countries’ top income bracket, the rich in a certain nation can no longer define themselves as wealthy. Needless to say, John Milton’s axiom “It is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven” doesn’t apply to economic policies.
The expectations for us are low; Dan Aykroyd aptly described our generation as “yuppie larvae” in Ghostbusters II. That being said, no dramatic changes are needed in the American market. We don’t need to restructure our economy into a socialist republic: radical solutions like redistribution of wealth and nationalized health care have never been truly effective and aren’t necessary for the problems we face.
Instead, when we become the economic decision makers, when we perform the economic calculus of large, billion-dollar corporations, we must take the inherent utility of helping out one’s countrymen into account.
Scott is a member of the class of 2008.