clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

America's biggest economic dilemma: private affluence amid public squalor

I don't know who @KStreetHipster is, but over the weekend she unleashed a Twitter rant that does an amazing job of highlighting the central economic paradox of the times we live in. There's a lot along these lines on her feed, which I just started following and would recommend.

But these are the key points.

American society has a lot of needs

Lots of people are out of work, or stuck in bad jobs

Our economy doesn't reward solving big problems

We need a bigger and better public sector

Private affluence and public squalor

This is an old problem that John Kenneth Galbraith referred to as private affluence amid public squalor. Our roads are full of nicer and nicer cars, with vehicles that make what was available a generation ago look pathetic. But actual traffic congestion is worse than ever, our roads are mismanaged, and new investments in mass transit haven't remotely kept pace with the growth of the population.

Houses are bigger than ever, but our water mains are less reliable. It's easier than ever to get food delivered to your house, but punishingly expensive to get child care for your kids.

Of course, there are challenges to getting this stuff right that go beyond willingness to spend money. But finding a way to a conclusion starts with the recognition that the biggest problems most people face are essentially public and social in nature, and need solutions that match.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.