“Excess is what made America great,” my suburban relatives told me when I asked why they’d moved into a big home just as their children were about to go off to college.
“You know what Mae West said about excess?” a colleague asked rhetorically before supplying the answer: “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”
For as long as I can remember, everyone wanted MORE – even for the brief time when the ecological mantra became Less is More, everyone still wanted MORE. All the political fights were over how to get MORE or who should get MORE. It seemed un-American to accept LIMITS. Only with the Great Recession has the idea begun to creep in that some people have TOO MUCH and some corporations are TOO BIG TO FAIL.
But there’s no modern day Teddy Roosevelt on the horizon, a progressive Republican who would conserve and protect the environment and break up the trusts (though we don’t call them that today) that dominate much of our life.
Our whole economy has been predicated on growth – on MORE. Yet as diet consultants often say: MORE IS NOT BETTER, IT IS ONLY MORE. How do we organize a society and a world where life becomes BETTER? How do we unleash the power of invention? How do we restore the pragmatism that made America great? How do we have discussions about what is BETTER?
At a Columbia Journalism New Media panel this week, a student asked, “How has technology improved our lives as human beings?” Few answers were forthcoming, as someone commented in a tweet. Yet on the front page of the next day’s New York Times, a story told of immigrants from Mexico, China and Korea who had created businesses and reaped personal fortunes without really knowing the English language. Technology had made it possible for them to get MORE.