The search for affluence is the pursuit of our time. Increasingly, however, we are uncertain where this search will lead, both for the industrial countries and for the developing countries. How may affluence, in concert with other factors, work to reshape the world over the next 30 years, and how will this changed world look from an international point of view? Many factors in addition to increasing wealth will be at work. We cannot be sure what these are and how they are working, much less what role affluence itself will play in the process.

Affluence is the state of society characterized by plenteous commodities and foodstuffs, high use of energy and considerable leisure, all somewhat broadly distributed through the population. But in the world today, countries are confronted by the irony that greater national power and riches are not accompanied by equivalent power to shape their destinies. Increasing wealth is not matched by increasing capacity to achieve national goals, because industrialization and modernization create change faster than countries can choose goals or deal with the results of change. Moreover, the greater the affluence of nations, the greater their dependency on each other.

Affluence acts to destroy traditional cultures, or rather to transform them. Some cultures appear more adaptable than others to the needs of industrial society, for example, the Japanese and the German. Yet in all cases the modified cultures created by emerging affluence increase individual dependency on the economic system and the state and weaken dependencies of individuals on family, clan, temple and community. These new dependencies create new responsibilities for the state and lead to bureaucratic government.

Most Western countries and Japan have given themselves in submission to the pursuit of increasing wealth. Other national objectives such as creating a high culture or helping the poor have taken a back seat to the pursuit of affluence for the middle classes.

Socialist nations, on the other hand, have tended to view submission to the production of goods for everyone as vulgar and debilitating to the society. They want production, but prefer to keep a large part of it for meeting national objectives of accelerating economic growth, creating military power, exploring space, etc. Mao Tse-tung speaks forcefully about the evils of family plots and leftover capitalists who work or manage for private gain, warning that material incentives would be the end of discipline, hard work and subservience to the Party and the revolutionary spirit. Yet China too needs the means to produce wealth. How to gain wealth without changing the spirit and motivation of the people haunts China. France in her earlier days was darkly troubled by the fear that capitalism and consumerism would destroy the qualities of warmth and humaneness in her culture. She submitted fully to the Western race for goods only recently and reluctantly.

Few countries in modern times have had the audacity to reject the rest of the world and try things on their own. Burma has perhaps come closest to turning her back on the "materialistic" world around her. Ghandi cautioned India not to submit to the Western machine, but the advice was not taken.

In this country, affluence may be taking the zip out of the search for affluence. The dream of a few years ago that increased economic growth would solve many of America's problems now seems just that, a dream. A quarter-century of unprecedented economic growth has not solved the 350- year tragedy of black people in America. Growing wealth could create a black middle class and alter culture and values enough to create new norms of intermarriage and belief which would overcome this racial legacy. On the other hand, increasing income may only divide America more deeply and demonstrate that its most difficult problem is more intractable than ever. In a different vein, boredom and unemployment and a television view of a ubiquitous affluence may cause the ghetto Black to take heroin to escape his world. Affluence may be, directly and indirectly, causing the suburban White to take LSD to escape his world. In addition, affluence is bringing rapid population growth to countries which do not have cultural rules that tell people how to live in close compaction, as do Asian countries. And finally, minority and poor people in the United States, who previously were coerced into behavior desired by the rich, now find, as fear and coercion are removed by an increasingly aware and concerned public, that they are stranded in their new freedom, without new opportunities, rules and values to replace the coercive rules and roles which have been removed.

A minority of youth view today's world as a nightmare of injustice, powerlessness and dehumanization, totally unlike the humanistic, close-to- nature, and compassionate world they believe in. However, a majority of youth today either are not troubled by the world they see, or view science and technology as capable of building a better world where toil, starvation, sickness, prejudice and misery will be overcome. Erik Erikson notes that this contest of identities and meanings for youth is not unique to our time. Nevertheless, the ramifications of these contrasting life beliefs and choices will be considerable should the preponderant choice swing too far in either direction.

Apart from what the youth of today decide to do with their tomorrows, there is the question whether affluence is creating a panoply of problems of population, ecology, compacted living and complex interdependencies that in themselves will create problems more rapidly than Western man can find ways to cope with them. Increasingly, we see evidence that the culture of affluence in the United States could take the vitality out of the economic system, through an erosion of the ethic of work, while simultaneously overloading the economy with economic demands and benefits. Both the attitudes toward work and the increased benefits sought from government represent changed cultural values resulting from increased consciousness within society and prior economic success. There are indications in America of probings for new meaning in sensitivity groups, renewed interest in astrology and in Buddhist and Hindu forms of worship, though none of these seem to come close to grappling with the existential crisis of meaning that exists. If values diverge too markedly and intractably, the long-standing tension and creative balance of world views within the West which have endured since the Renaissance and the Reformation could come undone and create a period of severe unsettlement.

This interaction between economic growth and culture could go several ways. If powerful groups within a country were to believe that the ethical values and norms of a minority were becoming an obstruction to the continued performance of the economic system, they might seek to compel cultural rules of behavior which would protect the workings of the economy and society. An authoritarian response to the cultural attack on capitalism within the Western world is most likely because the complex and interdependent capitalist system can only function under conditions of broadly shared or imposed rules, procedures and goals. Though authoritarianism might protect the economic system it would intensify the basic problem of the meaning of life in the modern world. This would bring the conflict between spirit and efficiency to a critical stage and lead to major but unforeseeable change.

Thus in many ways affluence creates the means to oppose affluence. The argument is not that all of the adverse developments mentioned will transpire and will not be offset by opposing forces, but that some of these developments will come to pass and are themselves sufficient to disrupt the continuity of the political, cultural, economic and social life which has endured in the Western world for roughly the last 300 years.


The developing countries today are having a difficult time. Remarkable progress over the last 20 years in increasing economic growth has been offset by rising expectations of progress and by rapid growth of population. Apart from whether economic growth declines in the industrial countries and causes a decrease in aid and trade, the developing countries today face major political, ecological and psychological problems.

First, there are indications that political forms in the developing countries may not evolve sufficiently or rapidly enough to facilitate economic growth past a certain level. Argentina, Costa Rica and Uruguay seem to have run into a political and economic deadlock. In the West, political change in most cases preceded the industrial revolution through the rise of the bourgeoisie. In Japan the political and social climactic of the Meiji dynasty was coincident with economic growth. In the developing countries economic change has come before political change. Moreover, the abruptness of some of the economic changes creates difficult political problems. Consider the dramatic increase in rural income and the altered patterns of land holdings caused by the green revolution in northern India, which have led to strident demands by the hapless Harijans for betterment and a share in the new wealth. The pressures created in just a few years on the Indian social and political fabric are immense even though the threat of famine has temporarily diminished.

The evidence is abundant in Latin America that a rational and technical approach to growth has not brought hoped-for political and social health- witness Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile. Whatever the causes, excellent economic growth policies and in many cases results (from an economic point of view) have been followed by increased political and social unrest. In Singapore and Malaysia, quite remarkable economic growth has failed to mitigate racial animosities between Chinese and Malays. Perhaps these are problems of turbulence in passing through a sound barrier of social and political change. More likely they represent difficult and enduring problems of expectations and performance.

Second, one form of precariousness has been exchanged for another. The previous Malthusian balance between food, traditional techniques and population has been replaced by a more complex balance between more food, advanced techniques and more population. Industrialization continues to tie the developing countries to a world market they cannot control while the new agricultural techniques tie these countries to new fertilizers and seeds that make the agricultural process more, not less, sensitive to the vicissitudes of nature as well as dependent on technology and inputs from the industrial countries. The new rice strains require precise amounts of water at each growth stage. New strains of seeds must be continually developed to maintain resistance against blight and disease. Food is now winning the race with population, but only through the adoption of advanced techniques which permit increased population growth but concurrently increase the risk of starvation should crops or technique fail or the world economic and environmental systems go off course for a while.

At this point, there is little solid knowledge of the ecological and plant disease risks man is running in squeezing more grain out of the soil of Asia. However, there are indications that nature exacts a price from man for yielding more production and discloses the price only at a later date. The later date has recently arrived for DDT and mercury. Thus far the price exacted for the new agricultural technology has been a race with pests and for water.

The third problem area is psychological. Unlike countries before them in history, the developing countries are forced not only to adapt to and emulate a powerful external cultural force-Westernization-but at the same time watch the powerful Western culture groping uncertainly with the consequences of its own success. If motivation is mostly a matter of believing in an end without being able to see its fulfillment, then the will to develop in the poorer countries may come into jeopardy. The developing countries through the magic of cinema, magazine and television are forced to live in two worlds and suffer the torture of seeing themselves both today and tomorrow, aware of the distance in time and effort that separates them from richness while some leaders in the societies become increasingly aware of the disadvantages of becoming rich. The essence of the situation for the developing countries may become this forced consciousness of arduous effort toward an ambiguous end.

Faced with such difficulty and ambiguity, will the developing nations seek alternative goals to high consumption and close ties to the world economy? Will these countries choose not to try to keep up or catch up with the developed nations? Would different national objectives provide these countries with an escape from the frustration of playing a game at which they cannot fully succeed? This is an important set of questions worthy of a much more deliberate consideration than is appropriate here. In my view, unless there are major upsets in the world economic order, the developing countries will be unable in the next decade to shift to new goals. Attitudes supporting economic development have become firmly established in the developing countries. Politicians must deal with these expectations transplanted from abroad or lose power. This is the cardinal point, and only a most unusual leader could buck these popular attitudes. Equally important, Western economics, techniques and cultures come packaged together. Decreased infant mortality brings population growth, while trade, media and tourists bring rock-and-roll music and mini-skirts. Countries must deal with population growth and expectations of economic progress and they have only a limited choice of how to go about this in an interdependent and media-drenched world. Countries can follow a more autarkic development policy, but experience shows they will grow at a slower rate and hence have fewer resources to deal with population growth and public expectations. The developing countries will be able to choose new goals only if the values and objectives of modernization are discredited or a prophetic leader arises and creates a new frame of meaning and a new interpretation of possibilities.

Let us take an allegory of the tree of life to depict a view of the overall situation. The people in the developing countries are seeking to climb the trunk and lower branches of the tree of life while watching their fellow men farther up in the middle heights of the tree, looking for all the world just like themselves, enjoying a most exotic collection of food, goods and leisure. Thus with the delights of climbing in full view above them, the developing countries redouble their efforts to climb. Yet the task grows more difficult, even as they develop technical climbing skills and prove they are tenacious climbers. It is their misfortune that the hasty climbers far above are dropping on their heads expectations and population and ecological problems that slow their climb. But there is another problem for these climbers. High up in the top branches of the tree curious things are going on-those fabled rich people seem to be pairing off and battling each other, some are acting quixotically and jumping off into the air, while others are trying to climb back down the tree. The climbers on the lower branches begin to question whether the top of the tree is the paradise they had believed.

Could not the arduousness of the climb plus the doubtful benefit of the affluent top of the tree lead to a failure of nerve of those leading the climb for the developing countries? If they look for a different tree to climb, will they not find that population, tastes and skills may be just enough adapted to a tree-climbing economy to foreclose a return down the tree trunk to a traditional balance between culture, technique, population and resources?


Anticipating the disruptive effects that our inability to deal with affluence may have in the industrialized nations of the West, we shall assume that the industrial countries will run into increasingly serious domestic problems and consequently try to withdraw from foreign policy involvement with other countries, especially in the developing world. We further assume that economic growth will continue, but at reduced rates. As the powerful countries withdraw from involvement in many parts of the globe, rearrangements of power relationships take place among the developing countries, accompanied by fighting and unsettlement. However, the industrial countries need order in the international system and they continue to promote regional arrangements based largely on the power and self-interest of the regional countries. To the extent that these regional arrangements adequately protect the trade and the overseas investments of the industrial countries they will endure, and the developing countries will continue to develop, especially if population growth declines. Two factors, however, could change this outcome.

If trade and financial flows become unpredictable and the overseas investments of the rich nations are jeopardized, the industrial countries will involve themselves again in trying to stabilize regional areas of the world and in securing trade routes. Even if such a reassertion of power by the major nations upsets the regional arrangements and leads to greater uncertainty and to increased warfare, the industrial countries will feel that they have little choice, since their economies are dependent on world trade even if it runs at a reduced tempo.

And if during the next one to two decades internal problems within the industrial countries slow or stop economic growth, the developing countries would have a frightful time keeping ahead of their population growth. Indeed, they are having a tough time already. As noted earlier, even if the industrial countries maintain their economic growth but show signs of ill- temper and despondency, this itself could have a considerable effect on the developing countries. The vintage pioneer spirit which America displayed in providing development aid around the world between 1953 and 1967 represented an optimism and sense of confidence by the United States in the future and in itself; in some cases this gave the developing countries the same buoyant spirit. Various countries such as Taiwan, Pakistan, Turkey and Korea, and many of the Alliance for Progress countries in Central and South America, undertook economic development with zest during those years. In recent travels I have been struck by how this confident spirit has diminished. The competence in Latin America in terms of technical knowledge, economics and planning has grown immensely, but self-assurance in development and trade and political progress has declined.

The risks that leaders in developing countries decide to take obviously depend on their calculation of their chances for success. Most assuredly, decreasing resources from industrial countries will affect the development plans and ambitions of the developing countries. I suspect that the presence of Americans with their enthusiasm and technical skills and confident manner (often misplaced) played as large a role in convincing developing countries to adopt ambitious development plans as did U.S. aid. I suspect that the energy and optimism expressed by the United States in placing aid missions around the globe was interpreted by some of the developing countries as follows: "These Americans really can do things. They are cocky and sure of themselves. We had better find out what they have to show us." Today the United States is taking steps to withdraw from such direct involvement in development by institutionalizing aid through international organizations, and essentially saying to the developing countries that we are no longer so sure about the product we were selling so energetically around the world just a few years ago. The United States will carry on a less active and interventionist foreign policy because it is unsure of itself for reasons that go far beyond Vietnam.

I believe we will see faltering leadership in the developing countries deriving both from the severe problems these countries must overcome and their lack of self-assurance that they can succeed, due partly to a shortage of political and economic models that show promise of success. If the United States is not the model to follow today, who is? What models are the developing countries supposed to follow in this age of used-up ideologies ? Peru does not know which way to go. Which way will Chile really go? Which way can she go? For every politician in a developing country who urges planning and rationality to solve the country's problems, there is another politician of the people who say "No" to the rational approach, "No" to the industrial countries, and "No" to waiting. Many of these emotional, nationalistic leaders came to power after World War II on the crest of nationalism following the demise of colonialism. Then during the 1950s and 1960s these leaders were frequently replaced by rationalist and technical leaders such as Eduardo Frei, Ayub Khan, Lleras Restrepo, Lee Kuan Yew, Park Chung-hee, Suleytnan Demirel and Diaz Ordaz. If the northern countries run into major internal problems, the developing countries themselves might well consider that their brief flirtation with Western values and trade was a disastrous failure; they would likely turn next to charismatic and mystical leaders who would find meaning within the culture and history of their traditional societies.

If industrial countries falter and behave unpredictably, widespread starvation and disorganization of the entire world economy would likely result. This would present the West with a supreme moral challenge. Would we let mass starvation occur? Would we have the technical means to prevent it? Would we be forced to close ranks and on an imperialistic basis put the world economy back together to protect our own standard of living? Or could we live apart from the developing countries, yet within sight of their misery?


That Western society is facing a crisis of meaning in various dimensions is, I think, evident. How countries react to the crisis is the interesting question. Though one can rule out a peaceful, almost invisible cultural and social transformation à la Charles Reich, one cannot so easily rule out failure of nerve on a scale that leads either toward collapse and antiquarianism or toward a prophetic reinterpretation of values and meaning while preserving the existing technology and economic system.

Alternatively, there is the possibility that instead of radical political or cultural change as described above, a leadership might emerge and gain support for the conservative position of survival through a policy of equilibrium with our natural environment through zero economic and population growth. We would then no longer use the pejorative term "stagnation," but find a new word that captures the conception of man being in control and stopping growth. This would require an immense wrenching of the spirit. Yet our affluent use of energy and natural resources, of drugs and medicines, our production of things and use of land-all these could so change ourselves and our balance with our environment that there would be a cry for zero growth. It takes little science-fiction imagination to conceive of a virus, mutagenics or mercury poisoning scare that would start people questioning the risks of moving further toward affluence.

Post-industrial society confronts man with difficult problems of management, knowledge, planning and environmental balance. Affluence, as a goal and as a dimension of post-industrial society, presents perhaps the most difficult problem because it changes man and his culture in terms of individual meaning, belonging and identity. Governments may be able to deal with pollution and planning, but changes in culture and meaning seem to be beyond them.

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