Why America's Economy Is on the Brink of Going Down the Tubes ... for Good
Recessions, especially the deep downturn that started in 2008, always cause us to scramble. Companies routinely slash spending while governments do the opposite, trying to shock the country's economic heart into beating again through heroic measures such as the recent stimulus package. Concern about a possible "double dip" recession have the hands of corporate CFO's and Washington officials hovering over the panic button again, mere months after the last push.
But our scramble to reduce the impact of the latest disaster distracts us from addressing the deep-seated problems that inexorably create the next disaster, and the one after that. Why waste energy on the distant future, we reason, when we'll never get to that future if we don't solve the problem staring us in the face?
We all focus on addressing here-and-now emergencies because we have no choice. What limits our options are not outside events, such as economic downturns, but internal events that go on inside our brains. As a neuroscientist, I've learned that our brains are hardwired to avoid near term threats and to ignore long term opportunities , because our brains are identical to those of our distant ancestors who faced a daily struggle for survival. When our brains evolved into their present form, about 50,000 years ago, the environment was incredibly harsh and risky, limiting life expectancies to 20-25 years. Diverting attention from day-today survival in those Paleolithic times would have invited disaster. Neuroscientists call this hard-wired preference for quick fixes over long range pursuits temporal myopia: everything past the immediate future looks fuzzy, or even invisible, and is therefore irrelevant.