Living in the Lap of Luxury

Scripps-Howard News Service 1.16.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Just how rich are we?

Last Friday, two former cheerleaders of the Philadelphia Eagles appeared with their attorney on NBC-Today to tell Katie Couric about the law suit they had filed against 29 - that's twenty-nine - NFL teams across the country. The complaint: holes in the door of the visiting teams' lounge, affording a peep to the changing room of the cheerleaders - not only used, but anticipated as a perk for the athletes arriving to play the home team.

Lest it become all too clear that dipping into 29 deep pockets is the objective, much is made of the acknowledgment of wrongdoing and attendant apology being sought. All that is very much in vogue these days, and I must not be out of step with the times. Therefore:

I confess that in 1952, when I was 16, the Music Academy sent me to a youth camp in Fonyód, a resort on the shores of Lake Balaton (the "Hungarian sea"), along with half-a-dozen other students, for a two-week vacation. Every day, we went to the lakeside where a row of cabins facilitated the change into bathing suits. One morning, an older colleague burst out of our cabin as the rest of us waited in line. "There's a hole in the wall," he related breathlessly, "and a very good-looking woman is stark naked on the other side." In the turmoil that followed, I, too, took my turn at the peephole to verify the details already described by our observant colleague.

In acknowledging the injury to the woman in question, I ask - should these lines come to her attention - that she afford me an opportunity to apologize, as well as the attempt to settle the damages out of court.

Alas, this would not have been necessary in Hungary. Everyone was way too poor to be offended. One has to be wealthy to be offended by the things we find offensive these days. And we in America are unbelievably wealthy. We can devote time and energy to the most incredibly irrelevant things, and money is no object. Everything comes out of our GDP (gross domestic product) and, believe me, such things simply could not be funded if we were not rich.

How rich? Look at it this way. While the country was being built, people had to do things that a) society needed, and b) they knew how to do well. At times, like the Great Depression, many had to do things well below their qualifications, just to survive. By the 1960s, though, America had reached the highest plateau of prosperity known up to that time. The generation that grew up to live on that plateau saw it fit to change the terms drastically, and their parents did not have the heart to stop them.

Increasingly, the new generation demanded admission to courses of study, then employment, in areas of endeavor for which they were neither particularly suited nor well qualified, and for which society certainly had no need. A growing proportion of Americans began to do things simply because they wanted to do them. Their demand to be supported as students and, later, to be compensated as employees for such things rested on the premise that discrimination in the past had prevented them from doing whatever they presently wished to do.

Now it is true that discrimination, as well as traditional arrangements in society, had prevented some from doing things for which they would have been well qualified. It is also true that, right around the 1960s, circumstances changed. Notably, black Americans could no longer be denied equal opportunity, and women were liberated - no, not by feminists, but by the ingenuity of inventors who provided labor-saving devices for the household in a blinding succession.

What followed was not simply the doors finally opening for everyone needed and qualified, but a headlong rush to indulge all who had been provided legal grounds for a discrimination suit. And the army of these has been growing all the time.

We have so much spare capacity, we can function regardless. But the percentage of persons doing things society does not need, or being employed despite incompetence, is constantly rising. Unintended consequence: because white males still have to meet tough standards, they will likely remain far more competitive then the various protected groups. No matter. If the latter continue to do as they please, it will destroy our prosperity, our collective vitality.

Until then, though, former cheerleaders of Philadelphia, sue the daylight out of the NFL. We feel your pain.