But could our good life really sometime come to an end — as the histories of past affluent societies suggest it will? Imagine al Qaeda attacking the New York Stock Exchange or an unexpected North Korean missile taking out a West Coast city. What if Beijing suddenly had to sell off billions of its accumulated American dollars? Or how about a good old 1970s-style recession in which interest rates hit 20 percent, with inflation and unemployment each hovering near 10 percent? What would millions of younger Americans do — people who have known only the prosperity, material surfeit and mostly peace and security of the 1980s and 1990s?
Prosperity can also be deceiving. Many Americans, despite superficial affluence, are in debt and often a paycheck away from insolvency. By historical standards, they are pretty helpless. Most of us can’t grow our own food, don’t know how cars work and have no clue where or how electricity is generated. In short, few have the smarts to survive if the thin veneer of civilization were lost, as it has been from time to time in places like downtown New Orleans.
I read this a few days ago and thought it was thought provoking. But now I don’t remember what thought it provoked. Fear maybe.