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  • Lance Mannion
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This is something I have been thinking a lot about lately and I'm glad to see you writing about it. One thing that strikes me is that in a consumer economy, it is impossible to make value judgments as to what constitutes a "good" purchase and what constitutes a "bad" purchase. Who can say whether my purchase of (insert name of consumer item) is good or bad, wise or foolish, healthy or ill for the economy? From the perspective of the consumer economy itself, it's ALL good. Yes, the way our economy is currently structured, at the macro level, ALL consumer spending is good.

Therefore, it seems to me, it's not about telling people which things are good to buy and which are bad to buy. Rather, it's about recalibrating our sense of what a healthy cash-to-debt ratio is for the average America household. Only by that basis can an individual decide whether a purchase is good or bad. It's good if you can afford it without too much debt; it's bad it you can't.

Of course, it would be nice if we had an economy based on real, added value, and maybe if we bought more of our "crap," to use your term, from ourselves rather than from abroad, we could solve this imbalance. But, at the end of the day, shifting the crap manufacturing to here rather than there may not amount to much. At the end of the day we live on a finite planet but our economics are based on the infinite and easy availability of energy, resources, raw materials and inputs of all kinds.


Thank you for this, Lance. It makes me think of the way that the way we're encouraged to "go green" by buying new things many of us can't afford, when often the greenest households are those that reduce consumption and production, period, either by buying less, buying used, or living in places and ways that reduce one's need for Stuff. A small apartment in the city, for example, is greener than a McMansion in the suburbs simply because heating/cooling costs are less, there's less room to store unnecessary items, and transportation distances are shorter and don't require the use of a car - and that's without adding additional saving practices such as buying local or using fluorescent or LED lights instead of incandescents.

But lovers of the free market have a lot of practice getting people to overlook the obvious - that the cheapest most effective solution is to cut back on Stuff - indeed, those who fetishize capitalism make a point of making such measures not only invisible but those who undertake them as uncool or unAmerican (see Jimmy Carter's sweater, using tire gauges, Cheney on our "right" to drive Hummers, etc.)

They also tend to assume that such benefits, such as they are, are only for those who have the wherewithal to pay for them - the pleasant change in Obama's rhetoric is that he's advocating changes that benefit us as a community, beyond the jobs. (I think it is not coincidental that, along with calls for increased transparency and better health care, one of the most popular suggestions people made at the site was to improve and extend the nation's rail networks.) He's thinking about this as a society-wide set of problems, requiring collective solutions, rather than doing the usual thing of promoting limited individual actions as a way to "solve" (rather, obscure) problems caused by big capital (and, sometimes, by big government, when it's not in its regulatory, for-the-common-good mode).


Remember GWB imploring, nay, commanding us to go shopping after 9/11? Sacrifice was for ninnies and the military.

Sunny Jim

Good post, Lance. And what an apt example is Circuit City: Aisles full of larger and improved TV screens for bigger and better viewing, but with a paucity of anything worth watching on your new and improved 800-channel cable package. Cell phones, Blackberries and new and better gizmos of communication put in the hands of people with very little to communicate of real consequence, judging by the chatter one overhears while out in public. Bigger and better and newer and improved Play Station and Wii interactive games that have replaced books and musical instruments as the leisure pursuits of our citizenry. Where are we headed in the 21st century? Is this what the Founding Fathers envisioned??Are we going straight to hell in a wheelbarrow??? Keep talking to your teenagers!!

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