Wednesday, July 27, 2005

LiveStrong or Live Wrong?

"Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that's the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later."

In an article in the NY Times (I should just start writing "in an article" because it's clear that everything I quote is from the Times...), Thomas Friedman talks about how Americans do not have the determination to succeed at all costs. We're a demanding bunch, but it's not as if we work hard enough to deserve very much. Sometimes to get what you want in the long run, you have to sacrifice in the short run, and that's something Americans are wholly unwilling to do.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel on the issue. Though I do think Americans are fairly lazy and pretty useed to getting what we want without working particularly hard for it. I mean, heck, there are all these bloggers (myself included) who are paid to sit in front of a desk and do nothing all day, and then complain that we're not paid enough. Arguments on grade inflation seem to indicate that current students work less for better grades than our historic counterparts. And I can tell you from personal experience that college students party a lot and drink a lot.

So then what? Is America as a whole doomed to failure? Are we doomed to fall behind in the rat race of time becuase we just don't care enough to make sacrifices for the future. Do we not care enough about tomorrow to work hard today?


At 7/27/05, 1:32 PM, Blogger Suki said...

Americans work more hours and take less vacation time than almost every other country in the world.

And what is the definition of success, anyway? Huge houses? Cars? Promotions? Success is not as easy to see in most workers' lives as winning a race. No matter where you go, someone will be more successful than you.

Sure, Lance Armstrong is admirable, and a huge success. But I bet the key to his success is that he loves to ride bikes.

At 7/27/05, 2:32 PM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...

I think Friedman's point was more about sacrifice and how Americans (today) never sacrifice anything.

We think we have a G-d-given right to drive gas-guzzling SUVs, then we complain when gas prices go through the roof. And if you say, "Well, perhaps you shouldn't consume so much fuel," Americans (my family included) say that it's our right both to drive SUVs and have cheap gas. The completely lack of logic is frustrating to no end.

We demand intelligent, thought-provoking media, but then FOX News and reality shows get the best ratings. (OK, I'm not sure how that's related, but it seems to fit.)

We think we should run the world, but then we complain when other countries take issue with that.

I could go on, but I'm sure every thinking person can cite many examples.

At 7/27/05, 7:54 PM, Anonymous Somewhat Anonymous said...

I know the "Americans are lazy, and require instant gratification" line is accepted conventional wisdom in large part, and there are certainly elements of truth to it, but I believe it is largely overblown. In general, I certainly agree that Americas are spoiled, but spoiled by success. In other words, we are rich enough as a country, that we are unwilling to sacrifice certain things because we can afford not to. We can afford to drive gas-guzzling SUV's (and my small Japanese sedan isn't really that efficient either), so we do. If prices were to rise high enough, fuel efficiency would become more of a priority for car buyers and you'd see more hybrids and fewer SUVs (This is known as market economics)

I think a lot of Friedman's examples are thing that he sees as crisis or near crisis level problems. He wonders why Americans are not wiling to address these crises and answers that it must be that we are too lazy. I believe the answer is simply that people don't perceive the same level of crisis as Friedman does, and are correspondingly unwilling to sacrifice greatly to address what they feel is simply a minor problem.

One example he brings up is outsourcing. He wants to know why the president isn't doing hi utmost to keep companies from sending jobs overseas. Friedman assumes that it must be an inability to make whatever sacrifices are neccesary in the short term to fix this loger term "problem". But outsourcing is a complex issue, and many economists think that its fine (This would be an example of comparative advantage, another economics term). So it is perfectly understandable without resorting to the laziness idea, why the President is not moving heaven and earh to "solve" ths. (This would also be the time to point out that the current U.S. unemployment rate is a rather low 5%, and that productivity per worker is extraordinarily high, computer desk jobs aside.)

His comparison to Ireland is also somewhat laughable.It is much easier to take collective economic action when your country's entire population is equal to Manhattan and Brooklyn (just over 4 million). Its a bit harder when you've got over 300 million people to deal with (legal and illegal). Furthermore, what Ireland has achieved, while an improvement for Ireland, is something the U.S. already has, premier companies based here, and tremendous amounts of foreign investment. It takes far fewer companies to have an impact on Ireland's economy, than it does the U.S., given the aformentioned 75:1 population ratio.

Finally, while we don't work as hard as our parents generation, and are certainly unwilling to get by with as little as they did, the same could be said for almost any generation in recent history. This is essentially the idea of the crotchety old grandfather saying "back in my day, etc.". We want every generation to have to work less than the previous one, we call this progress.

I see many Americans,especially in the corporate world, who are willing to work quite hard when they have to (do you have any idea what kind of hours big firm lawyers put in?). That we can afford excesses that other countries and our parents could not is a sign of our success not a portent of coming failure.

At 7/27/05, 10:15 PM, Blogger Somewhat Anonymous said...

Ok, that was a much longer comment than I had planned - guess that means its time to start my own blog.

One follow-up though, on partying and college (And law school too, its called the student bar association for a reason). Most people do not make the most of their years in college. However, this is not a new phenomenon,as the concept of partying and college going together is an old one (See: Animal House, 1978).

Some people make the most of the educational oppotunities offered by college, most others just do what they have to do to get by (That includes bright people who do what they have to to get A's, but make few attempts to add to their education beyond this). Fortunately, the four years given for college is far longer than is really needed to learn the necessary skills to make one useful in the workforce. As such, college attendees can party and still get the requisite skills for success out of college, even if they fail to live up their potential (especally since graduate school and on the job training tend to fill in the gaps later).

With college attendance at an all time high, (Over 50% of adults over 25 have at least some college education - 2000 census) I believe the population on average is becoming more educated, not less, despite whatever partying may happen on campus.

At 7/28/05, 6:51 AM, Blogger Eli7 said...

Wow! I got a lot of responses to this, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

All I know is this: I often sit at work all day doing nothing, as do many, many bloggers. Yes, Americans are at work for many, many hours, but do they do work? Some of them do, some of them don't. But if you don't take into account your long term future and work toward that end, well then you're not gonna get there.


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