After writing about Peggy Noonan’s observation that the American dream turned from a set of ideals to material things, it got me thinking about how mature, wealthy societies resemble retired people who have left their productive years behind them and are primarily concerned with preserving their living standards through retirement on the wealth they managed to accumulate in those productive years — with a couple critical differences.
One, retired people are aware of their limited nest eggs.
Two, they understand that by preserving their life style they are consuming their wealth, rather than creating more.
Once nations, states, counties or cities get wealthy enough, it seems like a great deal of attention and energy goes into preserving and extending what previous generations would have considered luxuries to everyone as basic rights.
This thought triggered when I recently read something that suggested that the USA was behind the times because it does not yet have government-mandated paid family medical leave.
Sounds good, but that’s a consumption of resource, not a creator of it.
We seem to understand that when we look at it on the individual level. An alternative to paid family medical leave is to expect people who are planning families and want to take time off when their children are born, to arrange their affairs to do so. That might mean saving up so they will have funds to pay bills while they take time off, buying a smaller house, getting by with one less 50″ TV — or whatever.
We know that when new Daddy and Mommy take off 4 weeks and uses their savings to pay bills, that they are consuming resources. However, push that expectation for savings to their employers with paid family leave and — poof — some see that as adding value to society, as if the employers’ pockets are an unlimited magical fountain that can be tapped to provide the acceptable living standard.
But, every time we go to the magical fountains of employer or taxpayer wallets, we put our nation more in retirement and hamper the very processes that created the wealth that made these luxuries possible in the first place.
Whether the ‘right’ is guaranteeing everyone a living wage, making sure everyone has a comfortable retirement, a free education, resources to make it through a period of unemployment, “free” medical care — we very rarely recognize these as consumption of the nest eggs built by productivity of the free market.
We rarely consider that our relatively recent ancestors would have considered such things as kingly luxuries or why it is that we can even afford to be talking about such things.
Reposted: This is a repost of an earlier post from a few days ago. There were some technical difficulties in readers that I could not figure out how to correct, so I thought it best to delete that post and try again.