April 14, 2009

Obama's 'post-material economy'

Robert J. Samuelson wrote a very interesting piece in yesterday’s Washington Post—sorry for the delay, I was on vacation the past few days—about President Obama’s vision for America’s 21st-century economy:

What Obama proposes is a “post-material economy.” He would de-emphasize the production of ever-more private goods and services, harnessing the economy to achieve broad social goals. In the process, he sets aside the standard logic of economic progress.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, this has been simple: produce more with less. (“Productivity,” in economic jargon.) Mass markets developed for clothes, cars, computers and much more because declining costs expanded production. Living standards rose. By contrast, the logic of the “post-material economy” is just the opposite: Spend more and get less.
What defines the “post-material economy” is a growing willingness to sacrifice money income for psychic income – “feeling good.” Some people may gladly pay higher energy prices if they think they're “saving the planet” from global warming. Some may accept higher taxes if they think they're improving the health or education of the poor.

Unfortunately, “these psychic benefits,” according to Samuelson, “may be based on fantasies,” and Obama’s vision for economic renewal “is mostly a self-serving mirage.” The full article, well worth reading, is here. There is something to think about.