Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Why did we buy all this stuff in the first place?"

is the question posed by Anna Quindlen in this week's Newsweek. The answer: cheap credit, a "keep up with the Joneses" ethos, and lots and lots of advertising.

Now, though, times have changed:
Oh, there is still plenty of need. But it is for real things, things that matter: college tuition, prescription drugs, rent. Food pantries and soup kitchens all over the country have seen demand for their services soar. Homelessness, which had fallen in recent years, may rebound as people lose their jobs and their houses. For the first time this month, the number of people on food stamps will exceed the 30 million mark.
How long has propaganda in the business pages told us that we should be happy that we don't have as much of a social safety net as European countries do, because that's what allows our economy to grow at such higher rates? Of course, most of the benefits of that growth go to the upper-upper percentages. But I would venture to guess that there are now more than a few people in this country who would gladly give up gaudy salary and stock option packages for CEOs for the sake of affordable health care, the certainty that one could stay in one's home, and the availability of a college education.

For years we have been told that consumer spending is the driver of the economy. Yet that never took into account the unsustainability of that approach - in terms of natural resources, and in terms of our own resources. Now we look at our credit card statements - and our economy, and the climate - and wonder, like a drunk after a binge, where all that money went. Well, the economy better find a new engine, because I'm not sure the "good old days" are ever coming back.

Maybe trading slower growth for a more secure life wasn't such an ignorant choice after all. I wonder if it is one that we will in this country will still be able to make.


Pokeberry Mary said...

I tend to think the secure life was never an ignorant choice. I watched as this began some years ago--folks buying huge houses with tiny yards and filling them up with brand new just about everything--all on credit. ? It used to be if you were starving you might take credit for food-- til payday. But nobody would have used credit to buy everything. All we've been doing I think is passing paper and promises from place to place--and its not worth a thing. It had to collapse someday. Hopefully in the long run it will be good for all of us.

Paul Kipnes said...

love this blog.
having moved out of our house to repair it and then back, we packed everything up. after a year, we learned what we needed and what we didn't. now we are having a blast getting rid of all sorts of stuff. downsizing is great!

weston said...

Glad I found this blog. I've been looking for something like this (Simple living site with a Jewish perspective) for quite some time.

Got to say however, that I was amused to see that a Jewish simplicity blog written by a Rabbi was on a blogroll (Simplicity Hacks) that requires that it's member blogs be compatible with a Christian world view. Not entirely sure what that phrase means but I was amused nonetheless.