Change “nineteenth century” to “twenty-first century” and the following quote might have been written yesterday:
Instead of using their vastly increased material and technical resources to build a wonder city, the men of the nineteenth century built slums ….. [which] on the test of private enterprise, ‘paid’, whereas the wonder city would, they thought, have been an act of foolish extravagance, which would, in the imbecile idiom of the financial fashion, have ‘mortgaged the future’ … The same rule of self-destructive financial calculation governs every walk of life. We destroy the beauty of the countryside because the un-appropriated splendors of nature have no economic value. We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.
– John Maynard Keynes
What more do I need to say?
But I owe that quote to British/American historian Tony Judt, who died at age 62 in 2010 of Lou Gehrig’s disease, though I know he wanted to write much more. He did produce the monumental 2006 book Post-War, which brought him to my attention, and the haunting auto-biography, The Memory Chalet, which he wrote as he was dying. But the quote comes from his other last book, Ill Fares the Land, in which he tried to warn us for the last time about what was happening now. He took the title from another book – the full quote from which was inside his own front cover:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
– Oliver Goldsmith, 1770, The Deserted Village