Americans Are Still Addicted to Consumption

The former President gave his controversial “malaise speech” in 1979, admonishing the American public for consuming beyond its means. Things are even worse now, he says.
  • Transcript


Question: Has America failed to adequately address the problems you laid out in your 1979 "crisis of confidence" speech? —Asked by Aaron Parr

Jimmy Carter: The main subject of my talk was oil, and while I was in office we passed a massive legislation that reversed that trend, we reduced all imports from 8.5 million barrels a day to less than half that in just five years, but now we almost doubled what we had to begin with. So we’re still heavily dependent on other nations for not only goods, but also money. Now every time we spend a dollar that we don’t have, we have to borrow 40 cents of it, for instance, from the Chinese, to balance our budget just by going deeper and deeper in debt.

We’ve become increasingly addicted to consumption of goods that we don’t produce ourselves, and a lot of the manufacturing has gone overseas. And this is... in the last few years it’s been not just handwork products like shirts and shoes and clothing, but it’s become the advanced, cutting-edge technological products.

For instance, when I was in office, we had the pre-eminent position in the production of alternative sources of energy—windmills, and photovoltaic cells, things of that kind. Now that ascendancy has moved to China. China's the number one producer of new kinds of advanced photovoltaic cells, for instanced. And they are the number one producers of advanced windmills to utilize the power from the sun and directed through the wind. So we’ve lost that edge that we used to have in scientific innovation applications to goods to be sold. In many ways, that is also changing in the electronic field. Almost all of the materials that we use now are of advanced technology, I have an iPad and also an iPod, both of which are made in China. Although we have designed them here with Apple, for instance, they are manufactured overseas.

Recorded November 30, 2010
Interviewed by Andrea Useem