By David Takami
America in the 21st century is much like a spoiled child who wants everything right now — quick profits, the latest smartphone, entertainment on demand — with no consideration of long-term costs or consequences. This is the withering appraisal of Paul Roberts’ brilliant and thought-provoking new work, which is sure to become one of the most talked about books of the year. Continue reading
Thoughtful consumerism isn’t so easy these days — in many ways, it’s getting harder as the marketplace gets better at targeting what shoppers want, writes guest columnist Paul Roberts.
I TRY to be a conscientious consumer. Buy local when I can. Avoid multinationals that blatantly exploit their workers. Help my kids understand why newer and faster aren’t always better. But thoughtful consumerism isn’t so easy these days — in many ways, it’s getting harder as the consumer marketplace gets better at getting under my skin.
Take Amazon.com. The mega-retailer makes buying so quick and effortless — with personalized recommendations, free two-day shipping — that each purchase doesn’t really feel like an act with social implications I need to think through. Continue reading
“Roberts builds a deeply troubling case. Our political culture demands rapid, visceral responses. Roberts challenges us to reverse course, to re-engage with complicated, enduring problems. He asks us to question just how fulfilled and evolved we truly are, and what we have lost along the way.”
Here’s a depressing statistic: Last year, U.S. companies spent a whopping $598 billion — not to develop new technologies, open new markets or to hire new workers but to buy up their own shares. By removing shares from circulation, companies made remaining shares pricier, thus creating the impression of a healthier business without the risks of actual business activity.
Share buybacks aren’t illegal, and, to be fair, they make sense when companies truly don’t have something better to reinvest their profits in. But U.S. companies do have something better: They could be reinvesting in the U.S. economy in ways that spur growth and generate jobs. The fact that they’re not explains a lot about the weakness of the job market and the sliding prospects of the American middle class.
August 8, 2014
WASHINGTON – Consider how our definition of “neighborliness” has evolved. Once upon a time, being neighborly meant “reaching out to the people who lived next door” by, among other things, “offering to watch the kids in a pinch.”
Now, “being ‘neighborly’ means leaving those around you in peace.”
These insights come from two important new books that I hope will spur the creation of reading groups that span our ideological divisions. Both provide fresh thoughts about community in America that might win assent from left and right alike. And both help explain why we are so divided in the first place.
‘The nation that built an interstate highway system, and cleaned up its filthiest rivers and most gasp-inducing air, has become openly hostile to long-term investment or problem-solving, says Paul Roberts in “The Impulse Society — America in the Age of Instant Gratification,” a cautionary tale to be published next month.
“We can make great plasma screens and seat warmers and teeth whiteners and apps that will guide you, turn by turn, to the nearest edgy martini bar,” writes Roberts. “But when it comes to, say, dealing with climate change, or reforming the financial system, or fixing health care, or some other large-scale problem out in the real world, we have little idea where to start.”’