Opinion

Alice In America

Marty Nemko Author, What's the Big Idea?
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From where I sit, America has turned upside down, like Alice‘s Wonderland.

When I was growing up, the most respected people were those who worked long and hard. It was widely agreed that they made the biggest contribution to society. Today, we’re more likely to invoke skimpy research and ignore more authoritative studies to justify praising people who have work-life balance and to pathologize people who work long and hard as “workaholic,” like alcoholic — addicts.

When I was growing up, substance was revered, artifice derided. Today, marketing is a very hot field — The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that marketing is a “very large career” and projects “very strong growth.” Alas, ethics seems more often shrugged at than deemed Priority One.

When I was growing up, if someone bought more than they could afford, they were deemed responsible for their profligacy. Yet in recent years, when people bought a home beyond their means, the taxpayers often bail them out with a “loan modification.” And government blamed the banks for lending to low-income borrowers even though government pressured banks to do so. If banks didn’t, they would have been punished for that: Catch 22.

When I grew up, schools spent more money on intellectually gifted kids because educators knew that investment would pay off in betterment for everyone: better leaders, better technology to improve our lives, better medical cures. Yet today, taxpayer money and resources for gifted kids have been almost completely redistributed to “closing the achievement gap.” For example, federal funding for gifted education has shrunk to zero. Meanwhile, after 50 years and $22 trillion(!) on efforts aimed at society’s have-nots,  the achievement gap is as wide as ever.

When I was growing up, if a country spent itself into bankruptcy, it would have to suffer the consequences. Now, they’re rewarded by having more solvent countries bail them out. For example, the International Monetary Fund (funded mainly by the U.S, which itself is $19.3 trillion in debt) has bailed out Greece three times since 2010 and is planning a fourth. Of course, that will only encourage more profligacy.

When I was growing up, the notion of considering a person’s race or gender in deciding whom to admit to college or to hire was abhorrent. It was viewed as replacing merit with racism and sexism. Yet today it’s frequent in both higher education admission and in employment, using tortuous justifications such as the legacy of slavery, which ended 151 years ago, and that diversity enriches classroom discussion, although there’s more diversity of perspective between a suburban middle-income white and a low-income rural white than between a black and white from a similar socioeconomic background. Demographics are too often trumping merit. In commercials, sitcoms, films, and even news media, women are disproportionately portrayed as spunky, benevolent, and hard working, men as evil, lazy, or clueless.

When I was growing up, American companies built bad cars, with planned obsolescence, and a workforce that knew it wouldn’t get fired for shoddy work but instead would continue to get paid better than many PhD lecturers and with much better benefits and a generous pension. All those costs were built into the car’s price. So Americans flocked to the far more reliable and less costly Japanese cars. So what has our government done? Rewarded GM by spending billions of our tax dollars to bail it out — a loss to the taxpayers of $16.6 billion.

The new movie, “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” invites us to ask ourselves whether America‘s having turned upside down is a good thing.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia. His new book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko