Not Your Father’s Economy

If we say it like we really believe it
maybe we’ll end up back in Kansas,
instead of in the dustbin of history

“It [an i-Phone] blows my mind everyday…
there’s nothing it can’t do!”
a person identified as being of
“the millennium generation”
PBS’s Newshour, 24 February 2010

Notwithstanding the apparent millennialism evidenced by the subject in the Newshour’s interview of one member of the apparently so-called “millennium generation”—with a silicon i-Phone in a backpack replacing the plastic Jesus on the dashboard that had marked previous generations of millennialists, getting excited over what “it” can do misses the point. And the ad’s focus on the i-Phone from a consumer gratification perspective reinforces people’s viewing the i-Phone from the vantage of consumers indulging themselves. It’s the American way, isn’t it?

Well, maybe it used to be?! But no longer, at least not for Americans. The ad responds to specific questions about the i-Phone’s capabilities, with an “of course”, rendered as “Yeah, we’ve got an ‘app’ for that.” What the ad doesn’t say is, “Na-na-na-na-na, and you DON’T.” The ad also does not say, “Most of you wouldn’t know how to get started making an “app”. That’s part of why you can be as blown away about what “our apps” do as the interviewee cited above sounded. BTW, we ate your lunch and especially enjoyed your potato chips. PS: Don’t you think you should spend your time, resources, and personal energies learning how to make “app chips” instead of mere potato chips, and give up on your efforts to wall off both history and the immigrants who have brought so much innovative thinking into the country.

Things are different these days. Remember the ad, “This is not your Father’s Oldsmobile.”—the one with Captain Kirk beaming into his daughter’s Oldsmobile? Well, these days, there isn’t anyone’s Oldsmobile anymore; not yours, not your Father’s, not Captain Kirk’s… it’s all just gone: the nameplate, the jobs, the factories, the towns—and the lights have been turned out. And that’s just at Oldsmobile. With Yogi Berra’s admonition in mind (“You can see a lot by looking.”) you can see the economy collapsing around Oldsmobile.

An update of this commercial might have Captain Kirk beaming down next to his daughter—perhaps the woman cited above as being so excited about her i-Phone—with the “voice guy” saying, “This is not your Father’s economy.” But the real Captain Kirk would not be quiet. Instead, I imagine, he’d barge in, out of concern for his “crew” (viz his daughter), and insist that Americans develop institutional culture that facilitates their learning how to feel comfortable being held to higher standards at school and at work—and how to meet those higher standards in practice.

letcherThat means reconsidering ossified institutionally grounded and defended premises about who can do what to whom—and we must do so within the new set of constraints associated with climate change. One place to start might be for Americans like the person who loves her i-Phone to reflect on whether she and Earth might be better off if she were to keep on admiring or even getting excited about i-Phones and other nice things in life; but when it comes to actually buying them, we’d all, collectively be better off if they listened to Captain Kirk. It won’t be easy, but it’s clear that just saying LA-LA-LA-LA won’t work.

Robert A. Letcher, PhD

Robert A. Letcher, Ph.D describes himself as “an academic with a disability instead of a portfolio, a writer, and a Qigong practitioner who tries to help people learn”.


  1. Robert A. Letcher says

    it’s not your ‘s economic collapse either. Americans seem either unwilling to act, or are perhaps incapable of acting as if, there were even the remotest chance that their government institutions, despite their being widely maligned for supposedly demonstrable incompetence, would ever allow the current global economic meltdown to collapse from what counts as a “recession” into what they could no longer argue was not a “DEPRESSION”. If a depression were nonetheless to ensue, it seems to me that it would not be like your Grandfather’s Depression:but worse. Why? Owing to the near uncivil war now raging across the country, which reduces the material basis for shared sacrifice in seeking solutions; owing to the (I hope) impossibility of world war stimulating spending; and owing to the complicating effects of climate change. I see no reason at all to be optimistic. Repeat after me: It’s not you Oldsmobile anymore; it’s not your Father’s economy anymore; and it may become your Grandfather’s Depression (only worse).

    Thanks to Dick and Sharon for leaving this essay up so long.

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