In this issue, Oren Cass explodes the false dichotomy between cultural questions and economic ones(“The Problem with the Culture Problem”). Nowhere is the falsity more evident than in the question that will define the coming decade: Should we emphasize consumption or work? Our answer will have significant economic and cultural implications. In his 2018 book, The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America, Cass makes the case for productive work. Through gainful employment, “people find purpose and satisfaction in providing for themselves and helping others.” Consumption nurtures a culture of individualism. Work encourages a culture of “strong families and communities.”
Giving priority to work requires a fundamental change, of course. As Cass details in his book, we’ve taken a consumption-oriented approach over the last few decades. The metaphor of “growing the economic pie” emphasizes the production of more stuff. It does not matter who does the producing. What’s important is how the resulting wealth is spread among the general public.