America is rapidly transforming into a post-materialist world—and that’s put a screeching halt to our economic growth, argues David Brooks of the New York Times. To prove the point, he imagines two men. The first lived from 1900 to 1974, watching the world move from horse-drawn buggies to Chevys. With all those material changes around him, this man worked hard, created, say, a brakes business, because to improve his life, he needed to create wealth.
Now imagine his grandson, born in 1978. He organizes conferences for a living, buys the latest gadgets, spends endless time consuming information online. All this makes him smarter and happier—but does stunningly little to grow the economy. “Many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity,” Brooks concludes. It takes millions of people to build cars, but Facebook employs only 2,000 people. There’s another consequence to this divergence of wealth and living standards—we all live beyond our means, feeling richer than we are.