Issues & Insights

The Downside Of Prosperity: Madness Made Affordable

I&I Editorial

No other system on Earth has created greater wealth for more people, and lifted more out of poverty than free market capitalism. But it has also brought a drawback we have to live with: plenty of idle time and available resources to feed foolish and too-often destructive activities.

When overcoming economic struggles is a family’s and an individual’s primary, and sometimes sole, focus of life, there’s not enough time and money left over to engage in ill-natured behavior, such as ignorantly and maliciously protesting, and harassing customers, at a Chick-fil-A grand opening in Toronto. All energy is directed toward daily survival. Putting food on the table and maintaining a roof above don’t leave many hours to participate in futile and stupid gestures, to borrow a phrase from one of Hollywood’s greatest movies. Productive adults, especially those who are depended upon by others, and even responsible teens, have far better things to do than to act like spoiled children, and worse.

But today, most in the West live in a society whose members are not only the richest in history, they have a bounty of leisure time that no other has even been able to comprehend.

William Ayers was among the first to exploit these conditions. His father Thomas G. Ayers was a president, chairman, and CEO of Commonwealth Edison in the 1960s and 1970s. The elder Ayers also served on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards, was a Northwest University trustee, and was known for his civic leadership and generosity.

William Ayers chose an alternate route. He leveraged the circumstances of fortune to destroy. Rather than contribute to the economy and our civilization, this scion of wealth, a founding member of the Weather Underground, considered a domestic terrorist organization by the FBI, chose to try to tear them down.

The Weather Underground’s manifesto said its “intention is to disrupt the empire … to incapacitate it, to put pressure on the cracks.” Ayers, who inexplicably became an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as a friend of a president, said his objective was to “kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at.”

According to the FBI, at one time “the group had claimed credit for 25 bombings — including the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, the California Attorney General’s office, and a New York City police station.” In 1978, the FBI “arrested five members who were plotting to bomb a politician’s office.” Three years later, “others were captured after two policemen and a Brinks’ driver were murdered in a botched armored car robbery in Nanuet, New York.” Ayers eventually went into hiding, dodging authorities for a decade. He couldn’t have done it without financial resources and a network of affluent social assets to lean on.

Had Ayers been the son of a struggling wage worker instead of a son of privilege, it’s much less likely that he would have chosen the path he did. He just might have been too busy with existential concerns.

Ayers’ spiritual grandchildren can be found today among the Antifa terrorists, militant, without decency, and lacking in remorse. Its “members,” implicitly and sometimes explicitly endorsed by Democrats, tend to be young and white, and have been enabled to destroy property and unleash violence because family wealth ensures they have time and resources to do so. With no dedication to work or school, no attachment to responsibility, they’re free to roam the streets looking for someone to hurt and something to wreck.

Less violent, but nevertheless menacing, are social justice warriors who spitefully interrupt students peacefully studying in their college library, raging “woke” activists who shut down speech that offends them, mobs of global warming hysterics who block the free movement of others, the Occupy Wall Street crowd that took over public spaces, and the screamers and criers who publicly mourned the outcome of the 2016 election. Free of the concerns that most humans have had throughout our time on Earth, they’re able to surrender to the lesser angels of their nature.

Prosperity has also given us a generation of coddled and useless Pajama Boys. The original Pajama Boy has been variously described as “an insufferable man-child,” a “special snowflake” whose mother tells him he “can live at home forever,” and a formal notice that we are moving in the wrong direction.

“The route from ‘Beowulf’ to Pajama Boy has been a very long downhill slide,” strength training coach Mark Rippetoe wrote a few years back in PJ Media.

Beowulf, of course, was of hearty temperate. The Pajama Boys of our day are the “men without chests” C.S. Lewis warned us about, more bread-takers than breadwinners, cosseted brats who can huff and incite only when a prosperous society underwrites their effete indulgences.

None of this is to say we shouldn’t promote prosperity. We are made wealthy only to the degree we are free. Purposely curbing or slowing prosperity to restrain the shameful and sometimes criminal behavior of a few would restrain the liberty of all.

But a civilized people cannot tolerate domestic terrorists, “black bloc” rioters, street brawlers, and violent agitators To let this behavior go on, and in Ayers’ case reward it with a teaching pulpit, is to invite cultural and societal decline.

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I & I Editorial Board

The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.


  • Far too reasoned for the threat faced. Ayers “salvation”, call it rich privilege, is a product of normal people making nice. Unless we are roused, all is lost.

  • This is an amazingly accurate assessment. I’m in my sixties and it has been painfully obvious to me for about 20 years. Younger people don’t want to hear it, though. They simply write it off as generational crankiness. And while that may be part of it, the fact is, I can’t find any young people born in this country to do things like mow, trim trees or stack hay. Those are all things I did for money from high school age on. I still do them, but now it’s my grass, my trees and my hay. I really do feel we are going downhill too quickly to arrest the slide. Oh well, major perturbations have a tendency to correct unbalance, even if sometimes painfully.

  • With automation, will people have more time to participate in futile and stupid gestures? Another reason to fear the coming of the robots.

  • Why did guardians of our culture (like YOU) cave on feminist Newspeak? “Humans,” when used at all (e.g., C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters) used to be denigrating. Now it’s mainstream – and part of this shallow politically-motivated lingo. And you ought to see what they have done with our hymnals (time, like an ever rolling stream, no longer bears all her sons away, nor is it brightest and best of the sons of the morning) and Scripture – even Jesus needs correcting.

  • Not so much downside as dialectic. Prosperity eventually producing the conditions of its own negation. A comfortable existence is taken for granted, being the result of the work of unseen others. A guaranteed comfort produces boredom and boredom is overcome not by exercise of reason but by acts of will. “Let my will stand for a reason,” our current progressives shout like Juvenal’s 2nd century Romans. Acts of will inquire no further than themselves, so reason is utterly ineffective to guide, control or oppose them. In fact reason asserting itself–or, more concretely, the visible prosperity that is the product of reason–becomes the principal edifice the progressive will seeks to tear down. Only by this sort of wanton destruction can the will be satisfied with itself.

  • You’ve made an excellent argument for a maximum wage and progressive taxation.

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