Robert J. Samuelson: America is prosperous, but the recession left lingering anxieties
Americans are defining prosperity down, to paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. They are aligning attitudes with experience. The consequences are profound for our economy and politics. Judging themselves more exposed to business cycles, Americans have become more hesitant and precautionary in their spending. These worries and the resulting restraint are both a cause and consequence of the weak recovery.
Politics increasingly involves scapegoating — who "lost" prosperity? — and a search for greater public protections against rising private insecurities. Obamacare is perhaps an unintended prototype of this quest, illustrating how difficult it can be. The experience in Europe, with more public protections and a darker economic outlook, teaches a similar lesson. The prosperity paradox is this: America has plenty of it, but not enough to soothe social conflict and allay economic anxiety.
Robert J. Samuelson is a Washington Post columnist.