Is narcissism to blame for the U.S. debt crisis?

daniel-altman.jpgThe U.S. averted an unprecedented and devastating default on the government's loans last week after President Barack Obama signed a last-minute debt ceiling bill.

The fragile state of the U.S. economy and the country's unsustainable debt have been generating headlines across the world this summer, with many economics experts weighing in on how the U.S. has gotten to this point and what can be done about it.

Economist and author Daniel Altman says there is a fairly simple explanation for America's complicated debt crisis: narcissism.  He addresses the problem in his latest book, Outrageous Fortunes: Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy.

"Narcissism is characterized by people who really believe they're the only ones who matter, that they're going to succeed no matter what reality might be telling them to the contrary," Altman said on Q during a recent interview.

"What this means for our economy in the United States is that we have a generation now that's very happy to kick all of their debts into the future so that future generations will pay for them. They're unwilling to take responsibility for the fact that they've lived beyond their means for a couple of decades now and they're unwilling to raise taxes to pay for that and they're also sure that they're going to succeed even though there's more and more competition all around the world in economic systems as well in actually products — the goods and service we produce."

Altman says that a culture of self-obsession has taken root in America, which makes the solution to the debt crisis more psychological than just raising taxes or cutting spending. He argues that there needs to be a cultural shift in the U.S., and it starts with the kids.

"In the long term, what we need to do actually is to bring our children up in a slightly different way. This is what the psychologists are saying, that we're focused so much on our children now and not denting in any way their self-esteem by telling them that everything they do is great and it's impossible for them to be wrong. We actually see this coming in the business culture too. When was the last time someone in a business meeting said that someone else was wrong? We need to change this culture a little bit. We need to be constructive, but we also need to be able to prick that balloon when it gets a little too big."

Outrageous FortunesOutrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy
by Daniel Altman

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"A Harvard-trained economist's startling predictions reveal critical challenges in the decades ahead, helping individuals, businesses, and governments to make smarter decisions

As individuals, companies, and countries struggle to recover from the economic crisis, many are narrowly focused on forecasts for the next week, month, or quarter. Yet they should be asking what the global economy will look like in the years to come — where will the long-term risks and opportunities arise? These are the questions that Daniel Altman confronts in his provocative and indispensable book."

Read more at Henry Holt and Company.

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