Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

May 5, 2013

ED VASICEK: Next generation builds a new American dream

— Two old friends met after a long absence. One asked the other why he looked so downcast.

“Well,” he answered, “three weeks ago, a great aunt I never knew passed away and left me $50,000.”

“That’s amazing,” commented the friend.

“Then,” he went on, “a second cousin I didn’t know I had died two weeks ago and left me $75,000. Last week, an unknown uncle died and left me $500,000.”

“Really?” the first friend marveled. “Why, then, are you so sad?”

“Well,” replied the second, “you don’t understand. This week, nothing!”

Economics can be a tricky subject. Despite our varied interests, all or almost all Americans are deeply concerned about our nation’s economy. And we have some good news, according to AP:

“U.S. economic growth accelerated to an annual rate of 2.5 percent from January through March, buoyed by the strongest consumer spending in more than two years ... Consumer spending surged at an annual rate of 3.2 percent — its biggest jump since the end of 2010.”

Up until now, this recovery has slithered like a slug. With the escalation of Obamacare and changes to our tax system, we will have to wait and see if the improvement holds up. Whether the economy continues to improve, stagnates, or takes a dive, the way we think about economics may be changed forever.

While foraging the Internet, I stumbled across “The Trends and Foresight Blog.” I was impressed by an article titled, “A New American Dream.” The column suggests younger Americans have a new version of that dream.

In the past, many of us assumed we would advance over our parents’ generation when it came to education, home, wealth, comfort or recreation. Ideally, immigrants bore the weight of eking out a meager living while each following generation enjoyed accumulating wealth and greater longevity. Not everyone shared this dream, and certainly not everyone attained it. But that was the ideal. Most analysts have concluded the old dream no longer bears the weight it once did.

The blog article summarizes three changes in the new, revised dream; these changes do seem to jive with what younger people are saying, in my opinion.

The first is a move from upward mobility to economic security. The article sates, “Polling in 2011 found that Americans preferred economic stability and security to upward mobility by a ratio of 85% to 13%.”

This makes good sense when we realize many from the younger generations have been reared in single-parent families against the backdrop of ever-changing social values. The younger generation craves stability — somewhere.

The second change is “from owning to sharing.” Those of you who are computer savvy know about freeware, programs one may download for free. Indeed, the world of the Internet is, in many ways, a key to the thinking of upcoming generations. Cloud players mean you have access (which is the substitute for “owning”) to music, for example, without owning a physical CD.

The aforementioned article even points to a company that rents out Smart Cars by the minute. Capitalism and the American lifestyle have long been built around ownership and personal property. This is not as important to many in the younger generations as it was to previous generations.

I have mixed feelings about the first two changes, but the third change needed to reach Kokomo back in the 1970s: “From having it all to having happiness.” I have seen so many families fall apart because money mattered too much. Moms and dads both working overtime, buying things for their children as a substitute for spending time together and relieving the guilt of parental neglect. More is not always better.

Younger people have to make the world work as it is today, not as it used to be. They have their work cut out for them!

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@att.net.