Go into any large grocery store, and you will encounter whole aisles full of hair-care products. Saunter over to the dairy section, and the array of cheeses displayed will overwhelm you (do I pick the Gouda made from goat’s milk or sheep’s?). The cereal aisle(s) will dull your sensory organs with an endless variety of loud colors and ultra-cheerful names. And once you’re in the meat section, you will be stunned by the incredible variety of ways people have turned pigs into food.
Our aggregate national prosperity is so great that the things we take for granted are things about which most of the rest of the world only fantasizes. Yet our passive expectation that all things will always be as they are rests on some spurious assumptions.
As David Leonhardt notes in the New York Times, “the unemployment rate has fallen. But almost the entire reason it has fallen is the drop in the number of people in the labor force — either working or actively looking.” Leonhardt argues that “the labor force participation rate has fallen almost as sharply for people aged 25 to 54 as it has for the overall adult population.” Put another way, many younger people, including those in what historically have been the peak of their income-earning years, are not working.
Why? Technological improvements have alleviated some of the need for labor intensivity. Our flailing educational system reflects the brokenness of our families. Companies find it cheaper to import textiles and many consumer products than make them here in the U.S.
The social esteem we place on college degrees surpasses the need for them in the real economy. We look down on voc-tech grads even though (1) they learn more about their chosen fields in two years than most college grads learn in four and (2) our economy needs them, in some regions desperately. The number of retirees is growing, the number of workers is shrinking, and the demographic outlook is dim.
My colleagues Drs. Pat Fagan and Henry Potrykus of FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute have documented that as America becomes more and more childless, it is inevitable that our economy will become less productive: Not enough workers leads to anemic growth and, thus, diminishing prosperity.
We need young, intact married families that value children and worship together weekly. We need to jettison, permanently, the social presumptions that every American needs a college degree and that knowing a craft or trade is somehow inferior to pecking away at a desktop keyboard. We need to snap out of our national addiction to radical autonomy (I am my own god, thank you very much) and recognize that if we abort our children, extinguish our marriages, redefine human sexuality, commodify women, and sexualize our girls and boys, the results will be beyond painful — they will be devastating to our society, our economy, and our very lives.
Our national debt is almost incalculable. Our “entitlement” programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and, very possibly, the president’s “Affordable Care Act”) are fiscally unsustainable. Our international economic competition shows no sign of abating.
In the midst of our protracted economic stupor, former national sweetheart Miley Cyrus represents America to much of the world, and not well; her performance on international television a few days ago captured the casual debauchery of a dying culture.
But although objectively shocking, Cyrus’s performance was uninteresting because her antics have become commonplace. As James Fenner writes, “I have to admit, whilst I watched Miley’s VMA segment, although my immediate reaction was to dismiss her performance as profane nonsense, I was also rendered somewhat unsurprised as I viewed the … spectacle. All the … provocative movements and weird, salamander-like facial expressions failed to elicit much of a reaction. This left me scrambling for reasons to explain why I was so indifferent. The conclusion I came to was that I had grown up in a world where ostentatious acts and public freak shows were gradually becoming the social norm.”
We not only accept moral sewage, we celebrate it. We expose our children to it. We callous our hearts and find meaningless what should be jolting. Human sexuality becomes, as Fenner notes, a matter of indifference: we have seen it all before, depersonalized but graphic. And found it boring.
What is the connection between vileness in our cultural expression and decline in our economic growth? One essential integer: The devaluation of human dignity.
If man is merely animate material, then that which gives his senses pleasure would seem to be the highest good. As a result, we have sex without children, intimacy without relationship, abundance by means of debt, economic bubbles instead of steady trajectories, and a growing sense of the absurd permeating even the most sacred arenas of life.
All of this means that if believers in Jesus Christ want to bring needed change to our country, we must quit mirroring what’s happening around us and begin better reflecting the image of God’s Son, Who has redeemed us not just for eternity but for time — our time, now. God does not invite us into such work; He commands it.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.