Thought for your weekend…

My sister & brother-in-law gave me a subscription to Lapham’s Quarterly for my birthday last year.  If you’re not familiar with this quarterly periodical it is literary magazine founded by former Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham.  Each issue he picks a theme and then searches historical & contemporary literature for inclusion in the issue.  It’s a great magazine but that’s not why I chose to write this post.

Lewis Lapham

His latest issue is entitled “Lines of Work” and deals with employment.  In Lewis’s opening essay he survey’s the US’s historical connection to employment and raises a very interesting point about employment and debt that I had never thought about before.  I thought I would blog about it today in case you wanted something to ponder over the weekend.

Here’s the excerpt:

“…somewhere in the middle of the 1980s on the yellow brick road with Toto and the Gipper… was easy access to conspicuous credit.  For how else could the American Leaves of grass join their top-dressed companions on a golf course unless they borrowed money?  The country’s working and middle classes discovered that it wasn’t the value of the work itself, or its manufacture of a decent living…that made up the sum of a country’s wealth and well-being.  Their great collective enterprise was the labor of consumption, and with it the derivative of debt…”

Leading up to this point in the essay Lewis had painted the US’s connection to work & employment much like the “protestant work ethic” you might imagine.  When American’s wanted something they worked long & hard, saved their money, and eventually purchased that house (if they didn’t build it with their own 2 hands) or car or ________.  In this instance the workers labor & unemployment was a direct means to an end.

But in the 1980s US workers now had the option to work for years and years and years OR purchase that item today using credit and then pay for it over time..  My question is, did the onslaught of widely available credit in our culture create a disconnect between our labor & consumption?

I’d love to hear your comments below.