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Meanwhile, the left fumes over the wealthy going soft, jettisoning moral hazard by socializing risk, all the while carping that the Obama administration is “anti-business” despite record corporate profits.

One thing everyone except Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner agrees on: We’ve totally coddled bankers. “We are still settling for Wall Street executives who leveraged 40-1 to walk while the taxpayer pays,” Mr. Farr said.

In his recent book “The Arrogant Cycle,” Mr. Farr argues that the financial crisis stemmed in part from cultural overconfidence and irresponsibility.

“I talk to tea party folks and Occupy Wall Street folks,” he said. “Many are reasonably articulate. But nobody seems to have a mirror. Nobody wants to talk about their own credit card bills, about the average household debt doubling from 55 percent to 111 percent between 1980 and 2009.

“It wasn’t just Washington doing deficit spending. Collectively, we have no inclination to endure pain or live within our means. We say we want accountability, but we’re not willing to vote for it.”

Fat, drunk and stupid

Speaking of coddling, in the case of America v. Softness, our schools are Exhibit A. SAT scores plateaued in the 1960s. The World Economic Forum ranks our overall educational system 26th in the world, behind those of Canada and Singapore; if America’s classrooms were a college basketball team, they’d be in the “also receiving votes” category of the weekly polls.

Time reports that American children spend less time in school than many of their international counterparts. By the end of high school, the average South Korean spends almost two additional years in class. In the highly ranked, highly competitive Finnish education system, all teachers are required to have master’s degrees, and only one in 10 applicants to teacher-training programs is accepted; in the United States, by contrast, half of our teachers graduated in the bottom third of their college class.

“While the rest of the world has been catching up, our educational system from kindergarten through high school has slowly been collapsing,” Mr. Ashford said. “So the basic skills, understanding and talent of people coming into the universities is not what it used to be.”

Student softness isn’t helping. According to San Diego State professorJean Twenge, research indicates that the percentage of high school and college students who spend 10 or more hours weekly on homework has declined since the 1970s. A separate study of time use by college students found that just 23 percent of their weekday time was spent on classes and studying, and that 50 percent of their weekly time went to socializing and leisure.

During the same period in which study hours decreased, Ms. Twenge said, the percentage of students graduating with an “A” average doubled.

“Better grades for less work,” she said. “So why should we work? Our idea of overpraising and thinking that you’re good instead of being good has lead to a rise in entitlement and narcissism.” Literally.

The author of “Generation Me” and co-author of “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Ms. Twenge notes that college students’ scores on the standard psychological test for narcissism have steadily risen since the 1980s. For that matter, so have the rates of plastic surgery; the number of parents giving children unique names to stand out; the amount of antisocial and narcissistic language in song lyrics; the size of our homes; and our self-professed desire to wield authority over other people. Meanwhile, our self-reported desire to work hard has dropped, as has the amount of weight that industrial workers are willing to lift on the job.

The cultural results?

“One of the essential traits in narcissism is being unrealistic,” Ms. Twenge said. “Not thinking long-term. Overconfidence. Taking too many risks.” (Is there a better explanation of the financial meltdown?)

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