October 5th, 2002 5:02 AM

Adam briefly touches on the oft repeated speculation that American has past its peak:

“A system based on mass consumption seems flawed to me. This kind of system is unsustainable in that eventually we either run out of what we’re consuming, or we go into too much debt to consume any more. I think America has seen its hay-day and is on its way out. It will take a while, but other countries will surpass us (just as someday in the future MS will fall :) Cuz nothing lasts forever.”

I’m not convinced of this. Consider the power with which America influences other countries; Globalization, industrialization, and the viral spread of western values throughout the world all seem to indicate that, if anything, America is more influential in determining the future of the world now than ever, despite a poor global economy and unsustainability. “On its way out” is not be the only option. Instead of slowly rolling to a halt and fading away, it seems reasonable to believe that the end may come in the form of a brilliant explosion; By pushing the American economic, political and social systems too far, we may very well bring about the end through excess.

“A telegram came, from Washington station, this is how it read: That brave engineer, who run old ‘97 is laying in old Danville dead. ‘Cause he was coming down a grade, making ninety miles an hour, the whistle broke into a scream. He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle, scalded to death by the steam.” Johnny Cash / The Wreck of Old ‘97


The thing to challenge in this more than anything, it would seem to me, is the notion that America is a “system based on mass consumption.” I think rather than being the foundation for the American system it’s rather a byproduct of the overwhelming success - as say, economists would define it - of capitalism’s ability to maximize the output of labor, technology and resources. It’s like if you live in an apple orchard, you probably don’t think twice about taking a couple bites out of an apple and throwing it away. You didn’t grow the orchard so you could do that but with the orchard you can do that. Since, evolutionarily speaking, we had to go through some pretty lean times as a species I’m sure there is a natural inclination to overconsume since you never know when you’re going to eat again (evolutionarily speaking, remember). Conservation and moderation seem to be two qualities that humans in any era have struggled to grasp, I mean Aristotle was dealing with this thousands of years ago.

Posted by: tk on October 5th, 2002 2:59 PM

Two things. First to respond to tk. While the idea that we are the first true leisure society is certainly viable and obviously plays a part in our overconsumption. I think to blame our problems on that is a little dangerous. For one, it opens the door for the idea that we AREN’T really OVER-consuming. Rather, we’re just enjoying what we finally have. The American dream has always been one of possession and I think the jury’s still out as to whether possessions (such as money and land) can truly bring one happiness. There are other countries enjoying much of the leisure we have without going so far overboard in its consumption.

Responding to Kasei, I didn’t predict when America would die off, but all countries/societies/empires have expired in one way or another over time. Rome was pretty big and influential. Its seems like the three most likely ways America would be radically changed is, 1. The rest of the world get s so fed up with us they gang up on us. 2. We consume ourselves out of existence, 3. We learn that overconsumption is wrong, consume less and kill the economy. Of course, I could be wrong :)

Posted by: wonko on October 6th, 2002 3:49 AM