In response to my AIER column titled “The Awestruck and the Awws,” Washington University economist Ian Fillmore sent to me the following e-mail, which I share here with his kind permission.
You point out that the Awestruck and the Awws differ fundamentally in which baseline they compare our current world to. The Awestruck compare the present to the past. The Awws compare the present to some imagined ideal state of the world—a utopia of one sort or another. I think you are correct.
I would add that the reasons for these differences come from, often unstated, assumptions about the “natural” state of the world. The Awestruck view poverty as the natural state of humanity and our current prosperity as a radical departure from that natural state. Thus the Awestruck counsel caution against doing anything that might destroy this unnatural prosperity and land us back in the natural state of poverty that our forebears endured. The Awws, in contrast, take our current prosperity largely for granted. They propose ambitious, even radical, reforms confident that, while some reforms might work better than others, nothing can really destroy the material prosperity we currently enjoy.