The "good life" of twentieth century America was known far and wide to be suburban and consumption-oriented. America was (and continues to be) characterized by a compulsion to put the short run over the long run, the present over the future, the individual over the community, and spending - even if it means going into debt to do it - over saving. But America was not always so, nor will it necessarily continue be so in the future. The American Dream that we know and love so well is dying - a victim of its own, overwhelming success.
Reviewed by Michael Nystrom
This is the major thesis of Schizomania, the latest book by Jack Lessinger, Ph.D., of the Department of Business, Government and Society at the University of Washington. The American Dream is not static, but fluid, growing, developing and transforming over long periods of time, in identifiable cycles. What was generally considered to be the "good life" 100 years ago is not the same thing as today. The future, likewise, will hold a different set of values and beliefs about what is important, valuable and meaningful.
This may seem self evident, but by examining historical data, Lessinger has codified this idea into a model that demonstrates long wave cycles of change in the orientation of American values. The model shows that the full cycle of a dominant value system-or 'ruling mania' as Lessinger calls it-is about 120 years. At any given time, there are two ruling manias in operation, one individual oriented, the other community oriented. When a ruling mania reaches its peak - a new ruling mania is born as its antithesis, and begins to gain dominance as the older one declines in power. At the point when the two ruling manias are of equal strength, we enter a period of Schizomania: A society split between major belief systems, accompanied by a perilous economy prone to depression.
This is where we find ourselves today: Schizomania. As Lessinger writes:
Nearly a century ago, the American Dream promised a consumer's paradise, but the Dream had a fatal flaw - indifference to the long run future of the community. Tomorrow we'll all be dead, went the common sense of the times. Let the future take care of itself.
The American Dream of the suburban lifestyle is giving way to a new dream of a community oriented, sustainable way of living. The ideal of a suburban paradise is yesterday's craze, and the migration out has already begun. As the exodus from suburbia continues, we'll see a real estate crash large enough to possibly bring on a Second Great Depression, according to Lessinger.
But the future arrived in a billow of smog and black smoke. The suburbs filled in - they became ugly and congested. Cars and industry spewed pollution. Water became undrinkable. Marriages failed. Children grew into delinquents. Drugs flourished. Education languished. By the 1990's, the Dream had become a nightmare.
The suburban lifestyle is about consumption, but consumption has led to over-consumption, and that is damaging the world community. We love our cars, but we pollute the air and water by burning fossil fuels, and contribute to global warming with its catastrophic impacts on climate and our biological future. Over-consumption is causing a groundswell of reaction - a countervailing will to live responsibly. As this idea slowly gains ground, old ways of doing things are slowly abandoned.
The emerging, responsible, sustainable way of thinking will require new social and economic machinery to change the way we live, think, teach, buy, sell, work and play. Today over-consumption is built into the infrastructure of our society. This will change over time. As we shift our priorities away from "what's in it for me" to "what's in it for us" (from individual-oriented to community-oriented ruling manias) we will spend less on ourselves and more on the community. This will be a traumatic shock for the economy as we know it.
Lessinger's model is innovative, insightful, and well researched. The book reads easily and is sprinkled with dry wit and humor, but its most important contribution is driving home the key fact: In the long run it is society that drives the economy. From a historical perspective, he examines four ruling manias in America, and gives some interesting predictions and recommendations for the future. He notes that each shift in ruling mania was accompanied by a corresponding mass migration. Anticipating this current migration is a key to recognizing how the future investment landscape is shifting radically. The world is fast changing, and Lessinger's book is a valuable contribution to understanding the underlying trends behind change. This book is a must read for anyone interested in American social history, economics, real estate and investing.
Visit the Schizomania Website
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