The problem is not the system. It’s us—our “got mine” culture of entitlement. Politicians, never known for their bravery, precisely represent the people. Our leaders are paralyzed by the very thought of asking their constituents to make short-term sacrifices for long-term rewards. They cannot bring themselves to raise taxes on the middle class or cut Social Security and medical benefits for the elderly. They’d get clobbered at the polls. So any day of reckoning gets put off, and put off again, and the debts pile up.
In the last 30 or so years, Americans have lived as if there is no tomorrow. They have racked up personal debt, spending more than they save and borrowing heavily. Americans have become fatter: between 1960 and 2002, the average adult male in the United States put on 25 pounds, and the average woman gained 24; between 1998 and 2006, the percentage of obese Americans in-creased by 37 percent. Some attribute these gains to factors beyond individual control, but who can deny that self-restraint and self-denial are antiquated values? (In the college hookup culture, the ethos is to have sex first and only then, maybe, get to know the other person.) It’s not just in Lake Wobegon, where all children are above average. Grade inflation is so out of control in the nation’s high schools that 43 percent of college-bound seniors taking the SATs have A averages—even though SAT scores have remained flat or drifted slowly downward for years.