Friday, December 19, 2008

Cultural Sickness

This comment on the NYTimes editorial page today got more attention than the Krugman article it was attached to:
The underlying cause of the economic catastrophe is cultural, not just a few bad policies or corrupt officials: The USA now has an excessively adversarial, exploitative, cutthroat culture, undermining the civility, generosity, tolerance and respect that societies need to function. It's a dysfunctionality that devastates human capital and ruins good people.

I'm an old engineer now, but I still teach classes and mentor budding engineers. This cultural sickness hits them in 3 cruel ways: an unforgiving financial sector where loan-sharking is the norm, mass outsourcing of critical jobs, and a legal system so vicious that good people find all their decency and good intentions subverted in the interest of personal destruction. Recent grads have crippling debt, yet they're "the ones who did everything right"-- thrifty savers who studied hard, didn't gamble or waste their savings, and patiently built their careers.

But education and living expenses debt are severe-- trapping them at the start of their careers-- and if grads hit a bump in the road, like suffering crime, illness, an accident of some kind, they're ruined financially. Interest rates in the US would be usury anywhere else, and since unfortunate circumstances causing debt are ignored, many decent, hard-working, entrepreneurial graduates are devastated. This is worsened by mass outsourcing and corporate abuse of the H1-B program, depriving grads of jobs and experience.

On top of this misery, our legal system is so viciously adversarial- with greed and high-stakes money ruling the system- that decent people are ruined, as they see their character attacked. I've seen good friends, business partners, even spouses who once loved each other deeply, pushed to "go at it" and destroy each other for money-- rather than accepting the fallibility in all of us, and coming to a reasonable accommodation better for everyone, that respects how much people have invested in their careers.

In short, the US has become an inexplicably vicious, hostile place that undercuts its talented people, denigrates achievement, and has lost touch with the basic importance of mutual respect.
There. I find I haven't a thing to add.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful art work.

k said...

I haven't a thing to add, either.