Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Private Splendor, Public Squalor

Roger Cohen's column today noted that there are more "cellphones in India than toilets. Almost half the Indian population, 563.7 million people, is hooked up to modern communications, while just 366 million have access to modern sanitation, according to a United Nations study."

This reminded me of John Kenneth Galbraith's 1958 book The Affluent Society.  He pointed out that post-World War  II America had become rich in private goods but poor in public goods. This describes precisely the nature of present-day politics and cultural values. We value clever private cell phones more than child care support for working-class parents with low incomes. Our roads, bridges, and infrastructure generally crumble while ever more advanced cell phones are put in the hands of kids as soon as they can push the buttons and lift the device to their ears.

We have the latest electronic technology, splendid cars and television sets,  the most advanced medical care  and an abundance of private consumer goods without end available for those who have money but no universal health care to which every citizen is entitled from birth regardless of economic circumstances.

Is there something wrong here?

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