In the last 20 years, we were lectured constantly about “post-industrial” America.
Experts proclaimed that the United States had evolved into an “information society” of “high-tech jobs.” The traditional sources of American strength -- manufacturing, the production of food and fuel, and the assembling of cars and trucks -- were apparently passé. Instead, others less fortunate abroad were to do those more grubby tasks, while Americans, with their BlackBerrys and laptops, funded, organized, lectured and critiqued them.
Illegal aliens might cook our meals or change our children’s diapers to free us up for far more important tasks of litigation, finance and environmental review. The Chinese would make everything from our shoes to our phones. The Japanese would supply us with quality high-end goods like cars and cameras. The Africans, Arabs, Iranians, Russians and Venezuelans would drill oil in nasty, dirty places so we wouldn’t have to.
Even our food -- which would be always in season -- would increasingly be shipped in from Mexico and South America.
Refined Americans became more concerned over questions of gender, race and class justice in our universities and courtrooms, as if the chief problem were only dividing the American pie equitably, rather than expanding it.
The real source of American wealth apparently was the mere fact that we were Americans. Therefore, the rest of the world should naturally loan us money to sustain our envied lifestyle. Our homes got bigger, and we bought and sold them more as investments than as places to raise our families.
Our top graduates opted for Wall Street, insurance, law, journalism and academia. Why not, when laws made it more conducive to invest and trade, but harder and less lucrative to build, drill, farm and manufacture?
American universities bragged that they were teaching the world how to design and engineer -- as our own kids gravitated to law and management schools. We relied on a paternalistic government to regulate what we shouldn’t do rather than turn to our best and brightest private citizens to show us what we could.
Alas, no successful civilization in history -- Greece, Rome, England, France, the list goes on -- ever found prosperity through its bureaucrats and lawyers.
The result of all this growing American laxity and condescension so far is mixed.