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The Opportunity Hidden in a Crisis

Op-Heads: a virtual chat on issues that matter


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Adil Najam (left) and Andrew Bacevich discuss whether the recession will change Americans’ idea of “the good life.” Click here to watch the short version. Click here to watch the full version.

There’s lot of bad hurt in this recession — lost jobs, vanished savings, shuttered homes. The big question posed to politicians, economists, and market pundits is, “When will things get back to normal?”

Some hope they never do.

As outlined in a recent New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, a number of ecologists, economists, and other thinkers feel that the prerecession American “normal” of shopping sprees, saving nothing, wasting energy, and filling the sky with greenhouse gases has got to go. They say that this recession may force a salutary rethinking of “the good life” in America: buy less, save more, use less energy and fewer natural resources. They hope for this even though no other post–World War II recession changed the trajectory of American consumer culture, and despite the trillions spent to rev up that consumer culture again.

BU scholars Andrew Bacevich and Adil Najam have done a lot of thinking about the good life and its implications.

In his most recent book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (Metropolitan Books, 2008), Bacevich, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of international relations, argues that the meaning of freedom in America has mutated since the founding of the republic. It now means unchecked government spending and conspicuous consumption, which beget crushing debt and a foreign policy dragged down by our dependence on foreign creditors and oil producers.

Najam, a CAS professor of international relations and of geography and environment and the director of BU’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, specializes in sustainable development. In February, he was appointed to the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, a subsidiary of the UN Economic and Social Council. In 2007, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize as a lead author on the third and fourth assessment reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN-created panel of international climate scientists, which was awarded the prize along with Al Gore.

We asked Bacevich and Najam to discuss whether the current economic crisis could or should alter the American Dream.

Got an issue to debate? E-mail today@bu.edu with “Op-Heads” in the subject line.

Jessica Ullian contributed to this story; she can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu. Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.


2 Comments on The Opportunity Hidden in a Crisis

  • Steve Quigley on 04.01.2009 at 7:31 am

    Today's Video

    Thanks for the clip. This is such a fundamental issue. We’re lucky to have these deep thinkers in our neighborhood and on our desktops. Would have liked more.

  • michael on 04.07.2009 at 12:10 pm

    ...the good life, and the value of experience...

    I agree with Mr. Bacevich that the post 911 world has changed America…and not in a good way. The “post 911 world” is bent on a reactionary tendency that simply validates many Americans discriminatory feelings towards people viewed as foreigners. 911 also lead to the “patriot act”: That little piece of fascist legislation that allows anyone to check Americans credit and personal information, which opened up the door for much “mail fraud” and lead to “opportunistic lending practices”.
    I was born and bred an American. I’ve watched for 30-35 years as the “detrimental republic practice of deregulation of industry” has allowed companies to move the industry “out of the country”.
    I don’t suppose that the latest round of the same detrimental economic practices in the world and indeed the country, will leave an imprint upon what I have considered a “valuation of the American experience”.
    Praise god for Sen. Edward Kennedy who is responsible for getting Americans “guaranteed financial loans” to attend college.
    I have never, in my personal experience, allowed the dysfunctions of opportunistic economic policies to affect my sense of “accomplishing the adventurous life in America”. I will not start merely because we live in a “post 911 world”. My conscience is clear and I have and will continue to endure in the best tradition as an conscionable free American.
    I have born witness to the “incredible shrinking American dream” …yes…but also myself, I have not been one to live for the pursuit of merely, “life, liberty and the pursuit of property”. Two out of three is not bad considering. And should I gain a desire to accomplish property in my life, I won’t buy a quarter of a million dollar home for my first home. I have had a good run in America in spite of the hardships that are endured in the economy. But I have not let the economy ever limit my options for adventure and exploration let alone personal fulfillment in America. I have made only poverty financially in my life, but I have gained an extraordinary educational pursuit and personal fulfillment in making the acquaintance of many varied people and places on this great continent. I do not suspect that anyone will limit their personal choices for living life to the fullest and baring witness to the best tradition that we share as Americans. If we choose to live greener lifestyles and a more wholesome acceptance and experience of places, people and material comforts…then so be it in the best conscience and personal responsibility to further our aim at living well and succeeding personally.

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