Tom Brokaw, Mad Men, and Clay Shirky.

Evan’s post about Tom Brokaw’s Boomer$:

So much hope, so much promise and they blew it all on cheap credit and 120% mortgages. When the majority of Boomers turn 65 the health care costs of keeping them alive will crush us. Economists predict that by the time all Boomers are 65, 33% of GDP will be related to health care. This is an economic disaster in the making.

And Heather’s post about Mad Men:

The American dream itself is a carefully packaged, soulless affair. This is the automobile a man of your means should drive. This is the liquor a happy homemaker like yourself should serve to your husband’s business guests. As absurd as it seems to cobble together a dream around a handful of consumer goods, that’s precisely what the advertising industry did so effectively in the ‘50s and ’60s, until we couldn’t distinguish our own desires from the desires ascribed to us by professional manipulators, suggesting antidotes for every real or imagined malady, supplying escapist fantasies to circumvent the supposedly unbearable tedium of ordinary life. In show creator Matthew Weiner’s telling, the birth of the advertising age coincides directly with the birth of our discontent as a nation – and what got lost in the hustle was our souls.

And Clay’s post about “The Collapse of Complex Business Models:”

In 1988, Joseph Tainter wrote a chilling book called The Collapse of Complex Societies. Tainter looked at several societies that gradually arrived at a level of remarkable sophistication then suddenly collapsed: the Romans, the Lowlands Maya, the inhabitants of Chaco canyon. Every one of those groups had rich traditions, complex social structures, advanced technology, but despite their sophistication, they collapsed, impoverishing and scattering their citizens and leaving little but future archeological sites as evidence of previous greatness. Tainter asked himself whether there was some explanation common to these sudden dissolutions.

The answer he arrived at was that they hadn’t collapsed despite their cultural sophistication, they’d collapsed because of it. Subject to violent compression, Tainter’s story goes like this: a group of people, through a combination of social organization and environmental luck, finds itself with a surplus of resources. Managing this surplus makes society more complex—agriculture rewards mathematical skill, granaries require new forms of construction, and so on.

Early on, the marginal value of this complexity is positive—each additional bit of complexity more than pays for itself in improved output—but over time, the law of diminishing returns reduces the marginal value, until it disappears completely. At this point, any additional complexity is pure cost.

I want to be a positive person and I want to believe that America is not declining, but it’s hard not to. Who has our long-term best interest in mind? Who is saving our future children, not saving next month’s stock market? I thought Obama was going to be this figure, but he’s just Clinton #2. Scary stuff…but I’m doing my best to think positively.