Archive for December, 2008

December 1, 2008

When enough isn’t enough

Juliet Schor in her book “The Overspent American” talks about the current American culture being one of over consumption. She makes her case by providing evidence that the “average American now finds it harder to acheive a satisfying standard of living than 25 years ago.” She points out that despite the fact that we are working harder and for longer hours, making more money and buying more stuff, we aren’t satisfied with what we are spending it on. She also argues that consumption in this country is social, we are trying to keep up with other people or we simply buy things because it is the thing to do. A country as rich as ours shouldn’t be looking to get more money, instead we should be spending time figuring out how to spend it more wisely. Of course this is made infinitely more difficult because billions of dollars are spent every year to convince us to spend money on what we don’t need. Schor’s book came out in 1999 so things are probably worse now than they were with her research.

It can clearly be seen in the economic mess that we are in. It wasn’t that people didn’t know that something like this was bound to happen. Instead, we were all content on trying to accumulate more and more stuff with every single extra dime we made. You might think that you are immune to this because you didn’t lose your house and could afford to pay for it, but just consider just how much debt you are in. Americans are up to their eyeballs in debt and for what? A bigger car with speed and power that we don’t need? A house that is bigger than what we actually use? How many countries around the world actually have a full fledged storage business? Think about that for a second. We have so much stuff, that we actually have to pay someone else to store it for us.

I am not going to keep harping on all our excesses. Smarter and much wiser people than me have written about that ad nauseum. My focus is on the what now? Is this something we can’t fix because it is too much a part of our system? Is it just the curse of capitalism? I don’t think so. I think we can take back our wallets and fight this extreme consumerism. The first step would be changing our priorities. We need to get away from trying to find self worth from what we buy. We need to stop trying to keep up with other people and focus more on what we need. It doesn’t make sense to me for a father to pull 60 hours a week working just so he can afford a huge house when he can cut those hours in half and spend more time with his family. We should put our money into things that matter like our schools etc., instead of buying that new car. Or maybe I am just in denial.

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