Five years after the Great Recession, we must confront an unhappy truth: a high-tech, high-speed, consumer economy engineered to provide maximum power to individuals is destroying our capacity to move forward as a society. Even as rapidly advancing personal technologies let consumers gratify an ever-broader array of desires, a similar pattern of instant gratification in the worlds of business and politics is splitting our economy and undermining our most important social institutions—family, community, collective action.
The result is a massive and ongoing fragmentation. Corporate executives now maximize returns without regard for social consequences. Political leaders score quick points while destroying common ground. Consumers cover their growing economic insecurity by retreating into personalized world that render collective social action all but impossible.The consequences: financial volatility, health epidemics, environmental degradation, and political paralysis, to say nothing of a deep and growing dissatisfaction. All reflect a society whose pursuit of self-interest grows more intense and less enlightened every year.
More than thirty years ago, Christopher Lasch published his landmark book, The Culture of Narcissism. Since then, the conditions he described have only gotten worse. And while Lasch’s analysis was largely cultural, the real story has always been an economic one. Paul Roberts digs down to the economic roots of the problem, showing how it has metastasized over the last three decades. In clear, cogent prose that mixes vibrant reporting and illuminating analysis, Roberts tells the fascinating story of how the impulse society came to be—and shows how, perhaps, a healthier society may still be possible.