I came across the following quote by David Brooks of The New York Times while reading John Bogle’s new book simply titled Enough.
I’ll confess that I had to look up the word “decadence” to be sure of it’s exact meaning. When I think about what I’d like my work as a professional investment manager to mean for my clients, it includes, at least to some degree, a return to the legacy spoken of here.
The Great Seduction
The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance, and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors, and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.
The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious, and frugal.
Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality have been undermined, while the institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today may be financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.