Short-term Thinking: The Societal Disease of Our Time (1983)

Norman Lear on Business, Politics and Culture

Speech Excerpts, 1972 – 2011

Short-term Thinking: The Societal Disease of Our Time (1983)

In my opinion, the single most destructive societal disease of our time – and the biggest reason for the decline of public morality and personal values – is American leadership’s obsession with short-term thinking.  Whether it is industry, government or academe, leadership everywhere seems all too ready to sell the future short for a moment of success.  There is a growing misuse of human potential at the expense of our tomorrows – and it has resulted in a climate that condones the misuse of that potential for short-term gain.

Because of its high profile, my industry, television, is a prime example of this destructive phenomenon.  Fanned by the daily press, which operates on its own bottom line, the fires of competition among the networks have resulted in an unparalleled and hysterical competition for ratings – ratings which translate to profits in the short term – and I’m sure I needn’t tell you that when the sole criterion for selecting a show is how it may rate against the competition, the decision will be made at the expense of taste, creativity, innovation and public responsibility.

From “Shaping and Selling Values in America,” at the Council on Foundations, San Francisco, California, April 6, 1983.