You might recall TMQ from ESPN's Page 2, but if you haven't heard, he got booted from that gig when
late last year he wrote in his online weblog that the violence in movies shouldn't be tolerated by
corporate leaders (who happen to be Jewish) like Michael Eisner (CEO of Disney - and therefore ESPN).
While he had a good point, he could/should have left off the Jewish part of that because giving the
thumbs up to violent movies in the name of the almighty dollar knows no religion. I don't believe
there was any anti-Semitic feeling behind his comment, but even if you stride near that area, you
pay the price.
At any rate, this article isn't about that, it's about Mr. Easterbrook's latest book,
The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.
George F. Will recently wrote
a column praising his book.
The basic idea of the book is: "American life expectancy has dramatically increased in a century,
from 47 to 77 years. Our great-great-grandparents all knew someone who died of some disease we never
fear; as recently as 1952, polio killed 3,300 Americans. Our largest public health problems arise
from unlimited supplies of affordable food.
The typical American has twice the purchasing power his mother or father had in 1960. A third
of America's families own at least three cars. In 2001 Americans spent $25 billion -- more than
North Korea's GDP -- on recreational watercraft."
However, people are less happy and content than they were decades ago. How and why is this?
He poses many possible explanations which Mr. Will covers in his column, but I think an important part
of the answer comes from an article I read in the
Author Barry Schwartz has written a book called,
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.
His USA Today article on the multitude of choices of digital cameras illustrates his point that
the endless selection of everything actually burdens people, and causes more harm than good.
The psychological impacts of this overload are scary, but one of the many he mentions sticks out:
"When decisions have disappointing results, people tend to blame themselves because they feel that
with so many options available, unsatisfying results must be their fault."
I don't know about you, but that sentence defines me and my career at this moment in time. While
I am a proponent of the general public needing to take responsibility for their actions and their
outcomes, there are some instances where things just go bad, and it's outside your control. Constant
second guessing isn't helpful, learning from a mistake and moving on is. What is worse is that this
easily leads to a situation of making no decisions based on a fear of making a wrong one.
On the flip side of this is a book by Virginia Postrel called
The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness.
My favorite part of one of the amazon book reviews is: "At the Great Indoors, a hugely successful
department store chain, customers can choose from among 250 lavatory faucets. If that represents too
little variety, there are more than 1,500 distinct models of drawer pulls." Wow.
Ms. Postrel's basic argument is that the variety of options allows each consumer their own choice
to maximize the aesthetic pleasure they get from drawer pulls to toilet brushes.
While is an interesting argument, I think the "uber-plethora" of choices prohibits people
from enjoying their choice as much as they agonize over making the choice in the first place.
I think we all enjoy living in the land of plenty as opposed to living in a hut, subsisting on
goat's milk in a harsh climate. But when is enough, enough?