The United States is lurching and convulsing through a shift in a number of paradigms related to issues such as energy independence, the role of capitalism, and the place of unbridled consumerism in our society. The following are two definitions of paradigm.
- One that serves as a pattern or model.
- A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.
Americans are now shifting their models of thinking and of viewing reality and of living their daily lives. And it is not pretty. From a nation that burst at the seams with unfettered consumerism and unchecked expending of energy to a nation now grappling with gargantuan changes in a capitalistic system that has – for whatever reasons – spun out of control.
Americans are now tamping down their spending – something that economists have suggested they do for decades – to control outlandish debt that comes from living with pieces of plastic as help-mates as well as installment loans and other credit purchases. But the decrease in reliance on credit also comes with its price.
Expending less by zipping pieces of plastic through those nifty little machines – such a sense of power – and curtailing consumer spending decrease the money businesses take in which in turn decreases the number of employees needed and on and on.
Instead of worrying about the domino theory in Asia decades ago, we should have been worrying about the domino effect of less consumer spending using credit. The time has now come to retool how we see credit as a part of our lives. The urge to save and the necessity of decreasing reliance on credit have taken priority now that the pitfalls of too much spending have come home to roost.
But credit isn’t the only area where Americans are slowly coming to the realization that things must change. Energy dependence has been a roller coaster over the last half century – and I remember it all. From oil embargoes to gas lines to using less electricity to run households, Americans have endured a love – hate relationship with energy resources.
Oil – the source that provides for 70% of our transportation energy – is a finite resource and increasing consumption and increased competition throughout the world has put a strain on this resource. But some Americans would still rather continue using energy like there is no tomorrow than change old habits based on a philosophy that we have the “right” to consume as much energy as we darn well please.
That philosophy no longer works in today’s world as we compete with China, India, and other countries bursting at the seams with economic development potential that depends on energy in the form of oil. And their philosophy is at the same point ours was at the turn of the 20th century – they believe that they also deserve to exploit and industrialize just like the United States did over one hundred years ago.
And the last area? The toughest one of all to reassess – the capitalistic system of government. Capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods. While we are in no danger of “nationalizing” all private businesses, many Republicans would have Americans believe that all is lost because of the collapse of financial institutions.
The government has become a partner in the banking industry – something that probably was unthought of a year ago. But most of what the government has undertaken is to impose regulations to control the ability of the large institutions to exploit, to merge, and to grow ever larger. And large is not always better, contrary to some beliefs.
Where pure capitalists think that the “free market” will work to solve all life’s problems, pragmatic individuals realize that there is and never was a pure capitalistic “free market.” The nature of capitalism itself will always require some form of regulation – not ownership – to restrain its tendencies to run roughshod over the American public. And Americans are becoming more disenchanted with the way business handles itself, and they are becoming much more accepting of the idea that business must be controlled.
We are facing a new era of how we view our economic business systems and the way we live our lives daily. Pandora’s box has been opened and the old paradigms are falling subject to newer ways of viewing our changing society and world. Paradigms change over time; the critical question is whether or not we will adjust to those changes as well.