Thursday, November 20, 2008

We Should Be Asking

"Frugality is making a comeback," claims the San Francisco Chronicle. The article proceeds to describe how, "fearful that economic conditions could get worse and stay that way, Americans are showing an enthusiasm for thriftiness not seen in decades" and provides examples of the many ways Americans are thinking twice about if and what they need to spend money on.

This is good, right? This is what we need to be doing for our health and sanity and for the beleaguered planet that's becoming as depleted as our bank accounts and our government coffers. But the article claims "scrimping may be good for stressed family budgets, but it's bad for the nation's overall economy."

So we need to be asking ... what's wrong with an economy that's good for its citizens when it goes bad? 'This is one of many things we had better be asking about the economy.

We need to be asking what's with an economy that's stock market goes up with news of rising unemployment. We need to be asking why for our economy to thrive to people have to shop themselves into debt. Why does sending good jobs to others countries that pay low wages and offer few benefits make for a "good"economy? Why are lower prices a relief for most people but a bane for the economy (See "Stocks Hurt by Declining Prices")? Why are diamond encrusted doggies collars are selling like hot-cakes while lines at food pantries fill up with once middle-class families?

Of course there is a lot about this economy right now that's not good for people, too. Like cuts in education, fewer people who can afford to go to college, people losing their homes, people losing their jobs, higher food and health care costs, and more people going without health insurance. So what's with an economy that can only provides these important basics when people and governments spend themselves into debt and deplete our natural resources.

We need to start taking notice that such details just don't make sense. They're a sign something is terribly wrong. We need to pay attention when "economic experts" like Tom Friedman of the New York Times tells Meet the Press that what we need to get out of our economic difficulty is to get Americans shopping again (see "Gonna Need a Bigger Boat") .

There is something seriously askew and we need to take note, because if we don't, as soon as things let up a bit, we'll be right back out there shopping at the mall for things we don't need, going further in debt, further depleting our natural resources, and wondering why we feel tired, and overworked, and wish life could be different.

If life is going to be different, we need to be different. We have to say "No, I don't need to buy this." "No, I can get along fine without buying that." "My life, my family, my friends, my health, my children's future ... are more important than constantly having more and more and more that's bigger, better, and faster.

Yes, that will mean the economy as currently constructed will not "recover." It means we won't be able to "wait it out" until life returns to business as usual. A new economy will need to evolve from the ruins of this one. But if we pay close attention we'll see this one is not working in our best interest even when it's working. Yes, for most there will be inconvenience and disruption for awhile. But aren't things getting pretty inconvenient already? Haven't they been pretty inconvenient?

Would you agree? Take the poll to the right and leave a comment about what you think needs to happen.


Alex said...

Complete and total sanity, don't expect to see it from either of our governments any time soon
Alex UK

Sarah Edwards said...

From a reader:

Unfortunately, along with the Industrial Revolution came the kind of economy we now see and have lived in for generations. We have to have our toys. I truly believe we will return to our spending beyond our income ways as soon as things let up.

An artist friend said to me long ago that he felt people subverted their creativity into "buying." I have felt this myself, when I am creating (writing or painting) I have no interest in buying. However, when I'm not creating I crave "buying" to make me feel better. It's only a temporary fix, however, and if I don't write/paint the craving (like chocolate) returns.

My father purchased items with money to item. That's the way I grew up. We had very little compared to our neighbors as a result...which in the end made my brother and myself starved to certain degress for what we didn't have. My son went through the same but he got over it once he had the items he imagined he was missing. My daughter went to work part time as soon as she turned 16 to buy clothes with labels.

Now, I feel fortunate that I had the childhood and young adulthood I had because it's not as painful as it is for many people...growing up with having...and now not having.

Sarah Edwards said...

Your observation that when you are creating you are not interested in shopping and buying is most interesting. This makes perfect sense because in our current economy our primary role have been diminished from having been valued creators or producers within our communities to that of consumer.

We are creative beings and our natural proclivity to create has been subverted into spending. that’s why the "high" from buying something disappears to quickly and why we are so eager to buy yet something else new. It’s like eating sugar. The sugar high leave craving more sugar because our bodies are seeking nourishment.

But when we create something of significance even for a few people or even without compensation, the satisfaction we feel is like that of a nutritious, satiating meal.

Yes, our desire to create again does return, but in the meantime we have been fulfilled and we’ve become more of who we can be with each creation so aspects of that feeling of fulfillment builds so it can stay with us for a lifetime.