Contempt disguised as compassion

In: Uncategorized

2 Oct 2010

Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics and special adviser to the United Nations on poverty, rages against his fellow Americans in an article on the Project Syndicate website.

Speaking as if on behalf of the poor he argues that economic growth and resultant consumerism has led to a profound moral crisis in American society and other developed nations.  With income inequality at historical highs he argues that:

“Almost everybody complains, almost everybody aggressively defends their own narrow and short-term interests, and almost everybody abandons any pretense of looking ahead or addressing the needs of others.”

For Sachs a combination of factors has led to a damaging decline in concern for the poor:

“the deep divisions over Vietnam and civil rights, combined with a surge of consumerism and advertising, seemed to end an era of shared sacrifice for the common good.”

From Sachs’ perspective the diversity of American society also opens it up to problems. It raises the possibility of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment – an ugly trend other countries could follow.

Some people will read these views as compassionate or humanistic but I see the opposite.  His view of Americans seems to be that they are generally dumb, easily duped by advertising and venal politicians, prone to outbursts of racism and too concerned about maintaining their standards of living.

It is also absurd that Sachs should consider he is speaking on behalf of the poor – he certainly cannot claim any mandate to do so. In any case an off-hand remark about the dangers of a likely “long term decline of US power and prosperity” suggests his real agenda. His is the voice of the section of the American elite which is exasperated at the refusal of the mass of society to make sacrifices on its behalf.

The conclusion of Sachs article is worth quoting at length:

“The lesson from America is that economic growth is no guarantee of wellbeing or political stability. American society has become increasingly harsh, where the richest Americans buy their way to political power, and the poor are abandoned to their fate. In their private lives, Americans have become addicted to consumerism, which drains their time, savings, attention, and inclination to engage in acts of collective compassion.

“The world should beware. Unless we break the ugly trends of big money in politics and rampant consumerism, we risk winning economic productivity at the price of our humanity.”