I have a new column out in the Sunday Washington Post business section on, well, America. “It’s been 235 years already? America, it’s time to grow up.”  The sub hed is “Happy birthday, America. But at 235 years old, you’re flabby, creaky and easily led astray.”

The column speaks to the nation as if it were an exuberant young lad who has outgrown its youth, and needs to become a man. The tongue-in-cheek tone somewhat softens the tough love/ugly truths contained within.

Here is an excerpt:

Infatuation with “ism”s: Every few decades, you manage to get yourself entangled with some philosophy from the wrong side of the tracks. These torrid affairs always end badly.

Every adolescent goes through this phase. You see a pretty ideology from across the room. She bats her big, blue eyes at you, and you fall head over heels. As any more experienced country will tell you, these infatuations are merely a passing fancy. They are not the makings of solid, long-lasting philosophies.

Your parents made sure you had a good upbringing and a Constitution that sets up some fine parameters for you to live by. How about avoiding the passionate flings with these isms and instead work toward being more pragmatic, more practical, even more technocratic?

Pretty cool, my first front page of the WaPo Sunday Business Section!



It’s been 235 years already? America, it’s time to grow up.
By Barry Ritholtz
Washington Post, Print edition page G1 July 3 2011

Published online July 1 as America: You could stand to take some tips from a few other nations

Category: Apprenticed Investor, Philosophy

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

31 Responses to “Happy Birthday, America, but it’s time to grow up.”

  1. Will she make it to 250 intact?

  2. Pretty cool, my first front page of the WaPo Sunday Business Section!

    Almost time for you to start dropping your trademark hand grenades! ;)

  3. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    “Infatuation with “ism”s”

    While “isms” might be avoided, “neo” anything should be avoided like the plague.

  4. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    How the Common Man Sees It Says:

    “Will she make it to 250 intact?”

    The US is nothing more than its Constitution. Being that our Constitution is already a tattered rag (and not a quaint lace doily, as our immediate-past president characterized it), I think the answer to your question is a lamentable “no.”

  5. beaufou says:

    The good news is: unlike many other countries, such as my beloved France, the US has the ability to reinvent itself and do the right thing at the end.
    Happy 4th Yanks

  6. Chief Tomahawk says:

    “Pretty cool, my first front page of the WaPo Sunday Business Section!”

    The cream rises to the top, no? Good to see the Washington has the wisdom to recognize your talent.

  7. FS says:

    Excellent article.

    All of your points are well taken, but claiming that Congress is just owned by Wall Street is too simplistic. Union money (not union members), entrenched govt. workers, people who benefit from other people’s efforts and money, the legal “profession” (term used lightly) and others have all claimed their fair share of Congress
    and at the state, county, city level it’s even worse.

    Your idea that money is the problem is dead on, but I’m not sure that just getting public financing is the answer but it might be a good place to start.

    Happy 4th, and remember those who are serving, and serving overseas.

  8. franklin411 says:

    Irrationality, foolishness, and an affinity for hysterias are female traits, though, Barry.

  9. DrungoHazewood says:

    Singapore is a favorite subject since I worked there for a year. The tax laws really help with efficiency: every year you get a card that has incomeX15%=xxxxx. Have any questions? They give a number to call. Otherwise just cut a check and mail it in! Can ours be that simple? No, but come on, we’ve got a monster on our hands.

    As far as healthcare, we must have a two pronged assault of prevention and reform. Junk food, sodas, oil companies, internet and cars. A lot of corporate toes would have to be stepped on. Good luck with all that. Its the only way that our entire economy isn’t eventually crippled. And the so called ‘Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’ actually makes things worse. Affordable? Just another corporatist sellout. I’d laugh if the whole thing wasn’t such a howling sham.

  10. VennData says:

    Supply Side Tax cuts don’t work. They have failed to pay for themselves, twice.

    It’s time for people to stand up to the Larry Kudlows et al and LAUGH at them when they talk this innumerate nonsense and ask which tax cuts didn’t end in mountains of debt.

    You’re all afraid to speak up at the country club. Supply Side economics is nonsense, and the GOP refusal to raise taxes is stupidity.

  11. Congratulations Barry! Nice one! :-)

  12. Nuggz says:

    Dear Mr. Ritholtz,

    That is a very good article. Bravo et Encore!

    In regards to America, you must wonder about a country who considers 100k high-speed internet and people who would vote for George Bush….TWICE.

  13. leeward says:

    Great column and it echoes thoughts stated many times here.

    To emphasize one point: If we are going to act like a mature nation then we have to abide by the reality that we will live longer than anyone alive. We need to, as a nation, unchain legislative action from the election cycle.

    Costs & benefits must be compared to sustainability and not allow a ten year window to be a reason for delay and denial.

    Legislators need to spend time learning how to support a dedicated culture of exploration and research without trying to govern it and not spend time writing laws that allow TV commercials selling drugs people don’t understand, or ATMs selling POP investments. We need discipline back in so many places where money has simply corrupted it. Discipline. When I was 18 I could drink and vote. When I was 19 they took the bars away from us till we were 21. Maybe America would do well with a similar measure related to money in politics. That is the best place to start IMHO.

  14. Orange14 says:

    As one who read the whole paper this AM, yours was easily the most thoughtful piece!!!

  15. Bob A says:

    grow up? what are you talkin about?
    i’m off to nascar and after that i’m gonna be watchin some ‘ultimate’ fighting. yeehaw. lotsa blood.
    what a country

  16. vik3536 says:

    Truth is hard to find and listened by many a rare find.

    A note on the decline of our education system and its lack of value in this Great Society as the source of many issues would be my humble addition.

    Congrats to BR!!

    Big fan, big fan…

  17. BusSchDean says:

    Nice article. I’ll take the bet that the good ole US of A will be here for 250. The bigger concern will be what will average HH income look like and how will it be distributed.

  18. chartist says:

    Since no government has ever lasted more than 300 years, we’re in the twilight of our existance….

  19. nancychek says:

    Ah. Thank you. Such a succinct and cogent, albeit playful, piece that says exactly why I fear for the republic. Maybe it’s time for another constitutional congress. . . .

  20. doodie says:

    Great article, Barry.

  21. “Since no government has ever lasted more than 300 years, we’re in the twilight of our existance….”


    What it is, exactly, that allows Us to believe that We have had, only, 1 (One) “Government” since ~07/02/1776 ?


    and, ya know, maybe, as part of our ‘Growing Up’, We can, actually, come to grips with the Idea that there were some, Who came before us, that, if We bothered to Learn, “grown, right here”, that would make our endeavors all the easier..

    as, but, one ex. ..

    Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned-this is the sum of good government.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    A little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    y mas.. http://www.thomasjeffersonquotes.org/quotesPage.php?quotes=thomas_jefferson_quotes&quoteNumber=0


  22. RW says:

    George Will? Oh wow: why would anyone with a grain of sense or intellectual integrity bother to “take him on?” In the “burning down the house” column he grossly mischaracterizes the content of Morgenson and Rosner’s book and then trots out a bunch of right-wing talking points that the book casts into serious doubt or directly contradicts while continuing to argue as if the book supports them. One can only assume he believes his readers don’t actually read, anything other than his columns of course, and/or are incapable of analysis.

  23. Malachi says:

    Congrats Barry on your first front page Bus. This gives me hope. Happy Independence Day everybody.

  24. Graphite says:

    Technocracy is an “ism” as well, one as old as Plato.

  25. @MEH,

    That were Jefferson and Jackson alive today. They would motivate the people to cast out the money changers. The fiery political speeches alone would be stuff of lore

  26. Jim67545 says:

    Very nice. Nice of you not to point out that Americans need to grow up too.
    On the point of moneyed control of government, you might be amused by this: http://www.theonion.com/articles/american-people-hire-highpowered-lobbyist-to-push,18204/
    Last Post…Bye Bye

  27. mote says:

    Many good points in your article that are especially poignant on this Fourth Of July. As a people, we need to lose the twisted isms and start getting in touch with our pragmatic nature.

    “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”

    William James, in his diary entry of April 30, 1870.

  28. Misaki says:

    It’s always nice to have something to aspire towards, isn’t it… tho, it is kind of unfair to call US military members in 15-ton tanks on wheels fighting people on foot with AK-47s as being “underequipped”. Sometimes all their enemies have to fight with, in fact, is their shoes:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=shoe iraq cartoon&tbm=isch

    Anyway, to eliminate unemployment and reduce wealth disparity, see here: http://pastebin.com/Q86Zhgs9


    BR: Adequate equipment is a function of the task at hand. As we have learned, the vast majority of US servicemen deaths were not from AK47s, but from IEDs. When the war began, the US military was unprepared for this form of counter attack. Blame Rumsfeld, who, despite internal warnings, focused on lightly armored fast approach. It was a poor tactical decision that cost 1000s of lives.

    Hence, why I used the term “Under-equipped.”