A father and son were discussing behavior to address the economic and social problems facing Norwegian Society as oil prices rise in the next 15 - 40 years. The Father, in his mid 60’s, was a very successful and talented engineer. The son, 33 years of age, had two university degrees, married, one child, with a career in education that included besides teaching, a focus on finding and implementing critical thinking curricula.
The father was confident that the problems were easily surmountable and his most valuable personal contribution would be to design cars that would get 10 more miles per gallon. The son, while acknowledging the magnitude of such an accomplishment, was equally sure that his father’s success (and others like it) would not prevent his bleak view of the future.
How could two well-educated people, who shared so much in common, have such different views of Norway’s future and behaviors to address it? Possibly, the father’s view of “changes-in-wellbeing” derives from the interval between World War II and the present. While the son’s view of these changes derives from the interval beginning in the mid 1970’s.
The father’s view, with only minor deviations, included a steady continuing rising wellbeing for himself and most Norwegians. For example, while the father’s parents (grand parents to the son) could not afford a new car or home, or a college education, the father was able to achieve these things. And when he got them he kept right on rising in wellbeing until he was able to provide most of these goods and services to his son and many of them to his grandchild. The father’s experience truly reflected ever-rising wellbeing.
When the son analyzes his father’s wellbeing he finds it peeking and falling. Since the oil shock of 1975, the son recognizes a diminishing ability of his father to provide “ever-increasing” wellbeing. Yes, his father’s income still increases in buying power in electronics, communication, and other high technology areas, but these increases do not keep pace with the increasing costs of health care, housing, and education.
The son sees the father not noticing his diminishing purchasing power. When the father paid for his son’s graduate school tuition, wedding expenses, and home purchase –social pride may have hid the real increases in costs. The father does not notice that his nest egg grows smaller relative to rapidly rising health care costs of later life.
While the father’s savings floats his illusion of continued rising wellbeing, the son knows he cannot maintain even the wonderful lifestyle his father’s generation has provided for him. Though his training was better, the job market is weaker. His income after expense provides little savings. The son finds it a mystery how his father and mother accomplished all that they did. He sees little chance that he can do these things for his children. When the son looks forward in time, far enough to include his children, and their children, he sees a progressive reduction of each generation’s abilities to provide amenities that exist today.
These rising and falling views of wellbeing, held by the father and son, are a little like an airplane’s altitude. The father sees his airplane climbing, and his action makes it climb faster. The son’s sees his airplane descending and the father’s action not adequate to stop the descent.
If the slope of wellbeing is rising, as the father sees it, the son is an alarmist and Norway has a bright future. If the son’s view is correct and wellbeing is decreasing, then working hard to change the mileage of cars is a distraction from an important task – that is “finding a way to re-establish the rising well-being the father enjoyed.” Isn't that what we all want?