The difference is not one of available time: It is one of values and culture. In prior ages, it was implicitly believed that not all available time was entirely our "own" to spend it as we wished in pursuit of our personal enrichment, financial or otherwise. Prevailing beliefs, widely reinforced through the culture, were that some portions of our time "belonged" to our families, to our communities, and to God. And honoring our forbearers was simply one of those "obligatory" cultural activities by which Americans came into communion with their families, communities and God. In today's post-modern culture, the quaint notion that we owe any time or effort to anyone or anything beyond our own personal self-interest has almost entirely collapsed. As a result, we are all busy single-mindedly advancing our personal goals and cutting out everything that does not maximize our bottom line.
What Is Lost With Economic Thinking
In the singular pursuit of our personal goals, we have discovered that the field of economics offers us a vocabulary and a comprehensive conceptual framework that is very useful to us thinking about how to maximize our personal utility. Indeed, the entire field of modern economics is largely defined by conceptual framework that assumes that we will all be happiest if we behave as perfectly rational beings that continually strive to maximize our personal utilities. It's a mode of thinking that is tailor-made for and by our post-modern culture. Yet there are at least two problems with this mode of thinking that increasingly dominates our society. First, humans are not perfectly rational -- and, as it turns out, much of human happiness depends on incommensurably complex factors that are supportive of vital emotions and sentiments that cannot be reduced to calculations of utility at all. Second, while the economic mindset may enable us to quickly assess what is good for us in a given situation within a clearly visible period of time, it often does not serve as a particularly good heuristic for achieving long-run happiness. For example, it is easy to measure how much we can save from taking advantage of the latest Memorial Day discount offered at Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Target ( TGT). But how do we account for the long-term loss to our collective well-being from failing to honor those who gave their lives in the service of their country?