SMITH: Quest for affluence has left us with poverty of the soul

March 9, 2018

The deal our cultural guardians offer is affluence over tradition. It has always been an uneasy tradeoff, but stagnant income and a five-decade reversal of growing life expectancy exposes this Faustian bargain as unraveling.

We all know the tough income numbers. Wages and income, except for the ultra-affluent, have been flat for a decade. Recent rises signal a recovery from the Great Recession is underway in Indiana and elsewhere. But Princeton University economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case argue wages have been essentially flat since 1970 due to the de-industrialization of America for the two-thirds without college degrees.

The life-expectancy data is even more troubling. The National Center for Health Statistics just reported life expectancy declined to 78.6 years, noting America put two consecutive declines together for the first time since 1962-1963.

Add to this double-barreled dilemma the troubling finding in an American Psychological Association survey of attitudes about pubic life. An astonishing 63 percent of Americans reported feeling “very” or “somewhat” anxious we are in “the worst period in American history I can remember.” Work and finances anxieties were a close second and third, but there is no denying people are more anxious about America’s future.

Those of us on the tradition side—which I would argue is really freedom or ordered liberty as embodied by Constitutional law—repeatedly and sharply have been told to shut up and sit down.

The mainstream media, informed by academia and fueled by sound-bite politicians, tell us what to do and to think. We’ll live longer and have more stuff. On an individual level, feel free to fight this poverty of the soul if you wish but just do it in your own home or house of worship while clinging to your Bibles and guns, to paraphrase the deal in former President Barak Obama’s uncharacteristically candid terms.

Meanwhile, drug overdoses in Marion County alone might top 400 for 2017, up from 277 in 2016. Our state’s capital city also recorded an astonishing 175 homicides, with more than 150 deemed “criminal” in 2017.

Schoolkids are being shot at schools that neither educate nor protect. Forty-four percent of Hoosier children are born out of wedlock, 27,000 Hoosiers are in prison, and local government officials cannot even fill the potholes after an extra-cold winter despite a billion-dollar state gas-tax increase July 1 to maintain those very roads.

Meanwhile, the mandarins of the culture wars—especially those practicing before the U.S. Supreme Court—assure us America is progressing.

But we know better, and we will neither sit down nor shut up. Smart TVs everywhere, free WiFi and Obamacare do not assuage the poverty of the soul. The assurances of the economic determinists that a growing economy will fix everything, including our out-of-control national debt, are no longer soothing.

Deaton and Case paint a dark picture of capitalism failing, complete with social unrest and economic ruin. They might be prophets. The “affluenza” might, indeed, continue to increase “deaths of despair” (a term this husband and wife team coined) and undermine Western democracy.

This columnist’s crystal ball sees a more hopeful future, one where the federal courts stop serving as the arbiters of “truth” and the cultural wars recede into the bad history books. It foresees a freshening of freedom, the real kind that requires self-reliance and risk-taking, as a renewing of faith flourishes. Affluence is failing us. More freedom is the answer. And while we do not deserve such a gift, Providence has sustained America in troubling times, beginning long before the American Psychological Association was around to wring its hands about our angst.•

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Smith is president of the Indiana Family Institute and author of “Deicide: Why Eliminating The Deity is Destroying America.” Send comments toibjedit@ibj.com.


Recent Articles by Curt Smith / Special to IBJ

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