Negativity abounds. Between President Trump, Marie Le Pen, ongoing wars, healthcare uncertainty, and general economic sluggishness, people want change even if they really don't know what kind of change they want.
Tyler Cowen's latest book, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, places the blame squarely on the public, which he says is actively working to forestall change despite their own rhetoric. It's telling that change language from both the right and the left references non-existent golden ages.
Suketu Mehta provides a solution and exhortation to those Americans looking for real change in a recent New York Times article. Leave. Leave America and you will likely find the job you want.
While Mehta doesn't frame his article as a dressing-down of complacent Americans, some of his facts can come across, rightly, as a bit of a dismissal:
- "Only a third of Americans have a working passport; three-quarters of Britons do, and 60 percent of Canadians."
- "...you would think that this is because every American has a divine right to a well-paid job in his own country."
- "The 20th century was the American century; the 21st, not so much."
- "You might prefer to stay in the house you were born in all your life, but it's not a constitutional right."
Mehta is saying that the rest of the world's young people are getting out and finding a place on the globe where they can succeed and create the most value. Perhaps young Americans should do the same, and (hint!) that place may not be in your backyard or even your own country. Many Americans still think it’s in the late 1950s when America stood powerful and rich astride the whole globe, while everyone else rebuilt after World War II. Those days are gone; start living like they are gone.
It is perhaps time for dynamic Americans to go where they can do the most good for themselves and others.
I love this article for so many other reasons. First, it bravely dismisses American Exceptionalism without directly addressing the issue. We used to laugh at the sad politics and jokey leaders of other countries and welcomed their people as they fled dysfunctional countries. The tables have now turned and it is perhaps time for dynamic Americans to go where they can do the most good for themselves and others.
Second, it also tries to introduce the idea of individual "Exit" to a fearful and tenuous America. Why beat your head against the traditional, hidebound and ridiculous world of politics when there is success and a more agreeable culture somewhere else? Exit your negative situation and find something more positive.
Finally, I love that this article comes from an immigrant who has done exactly what he is telling others to do. He comes at this from experience and recognizes both the hardships and the rewards of leaving the comfort of your home. He wants everyone to succeed and, to my delight, he leavens that encouragement with a little bit of shame. He did it, why can't you? Are you less capable and dynamic than a poor Indian kid from Gujarat?
If you are, then Tyler Cowen might just be right and our complacency is here to stay.