By the way, speaking of the famous book fair, when my father first saw people dragging away gigantic book totes, he said, “Ah! So these are the soulless, stupid Americans our propaganda told us about. The ones who have no culture and no capacity for an inner life!”
It’s quite common for people to explain away the material success of Americans as a byproduct of their spiritual and intellectual limitations. The Franco dictatorship used to tell people that it was precisely the Spanish poverty and privations that made Spaniards intellectually and culturally superior to Americans. It wasn’t his ineptitude that made people starve. No, it was what they wanted to do because that made them better human beings. And back in 1900 the Uruguayan essayist José Enrique Rodó made the same argument to get himself and his readers to feel better about the inferior economic conditions of South America.
Of course, it’s all bunkum. Even ancient Greeks knew that material well-being made it more likely people would have the leisure and the energy to enjoy culture. The modern-day dictators who want to convince us that there’s virtue in lowering our standard of living are cheap manipulators.