I love classists as a wanna be classicist myself. Therefore, I love Victor Davis Hanson because he is a classist. And what’s more, he can critique social issues accurately and with the wisdom of the West on his side.
So I was intrigued by his Christmas day post about American wealth. He argues that 1) the U.S. has not received enough credit in fighting poverty because standards of living are higher now than they were in the ’60’s based on his own anecdotal evidence* and,at the same time, 2) that Americans’ desire for luxuries are out-of-control and should be a subject of political debate.
Here’s a few of his compelling paragraphs:
We are not talking of European vacations, second homes, or SAT camps for junior, but nonetheless there is something very different from the past that I remember when the poor nearby lacked indoor plumbing and at school in the early 1960s students ate thirds and fourths at our noon meal of barely edible surplus cafeteria food. Surely something has gone right in eliminating elemental poverty that we never hear in the din of constant accusations and complaints about American inequality.
This summer I bought on sale an old-style color television, 32-inch screen (the kind with the big tube in the back and curved front) for about $130. A decade ago it would have cost $500. The surprise was that the clerk laughed about what he thought was the idiocy of wanting one of these now obsolete, but perfectly fine, televisions. He probably made about $10 an hour, but would never have apparently stooped to such sacrifice. Again, any discussion about this surreal world is entirely lacking in the current political debate.
A final note. I wrote about such anomalies about three years ago when I broke my arm and visited the local emergency room in Selma about three miles away. Nothing much has changed since then, which is good—however little the credit this country gets from its critics.
Since I’ve been thinking about business and reading Dorothy Sayers’ essays on work and art, I have come to realize how capitalism has brought out the worst in the avarice of human nature in Britain and America in the 20th and (so far) the 21st centuries. Hanson points out the gross extent of that insatiable craving for luxury. I noticed this shopping for gifts this Christmas season. The ads and atmosphere of malls and department stores leads one to believe that his or her clothes, shoes, and overall outward appearance is in need of immediate remedy (this may be true in my case!) and you can finance it with easy credit card applications and payments (“easy” for whom?). This is a matter for public debate, and Hanson is right to point it out.