So I keep reading these articles about how you and I, specifically, are stalling the economic recovery. And not just us, but everyone you know, everyone who is a Consumer. I’m capitalizing it, because a) this is a capitalist nation, and b) apparently, we’re just that important to the economy that I don’t think a smidgeon of extra capitalization goes amiss in this instance.
It is consumers’ fault the economy isn’t improving, the hand-wringers moan, because, in the face of rising prices and uncertain job security, people are tightening their belts, spending less, saving more, and consuming far more carefully than was their wont previously. Indeed, it seems that more of us are attempting to live within our means and not buy on credit we can’t afford and are destined to default on.
Is that not what used to be referred to as “financial responsibility”? Haven’t we been hearing for years that Americans are spending too much money they don’t have, and aren’t saving nearly enough for homes, education for their kids, and retirement? And now that the chickens have come home to roost, we are being told that the only way to save this rickety economy is to do more of the same thing that got us here? Logic fail, on a staggering scale.
I like that the second article has us “threatening” the economy, and that our “sluggish” buying is likely to make things a lot worse for a lot longer. And when I say “like,” I mean “burn ragefully with a white-hot fury.” Lessee here…if you don’t have a lot of money, and you’re not sure your means of earning more is secure…trying to hold on to as much of it as you can is a BAD IDEA? It’s actually not a bad idea for families, but it ain’t so good for profits, and that’s what’s freaking people out. And by “people,” I mean people considerably wealthier than you and me. In many cases, the same people who are upset that Consumers aren’t buying shit are the same ones who fired those same Consumers to save money and give it to themselves and their stockholders. Hard to buy widgets when you’re unemployed. Hard to buy anything, really, no?
I am peeved at being blamed for the state of this economy, and I doubt I’m alone in feeling that way. I am employed. I bought a house I could afford. I pay my mortgage and all my bills, every single month, including paying off my credit cards every month. I have my retirement savings in only moderate risk mutual funds and CDs. I have purchased exactly zero exotic financial instruments. The only exotic financial instrument I’d even recognize is a leopard-print checkbook cover. And, in a nod to what is apparently my civic duty, I have been an avid shopper.
I’ll be damned if I’m taking the blame for this mess.
If you want someone to blame, I’ve got one word for you, also capitalized: Greed. Greed is to blame for this. The greed of Wall Street honchos who just aren’t going to settle for being mere millionaires. The greed of wealthy folks who don’t pay their fair share of taxes. The greed of the corporations they run, who also get tax breaks, on top of the fact that they’re taking jobs overseas to avoid both taxes and paying people a livable wage, cheating everyone by hiring illegal workers at a cut rate, and firing Americans simply to improve their profits. The greed of businesses who cut corners on safety so that 11 people are dead and the Gulf of Mexico is suffering the effects of 4.9 million barrels of oil gushing into it unchecked for months, and who knows what other miniature disasters every single day that don’t make the news.
These are, I don’t have to tell you, all the same people in most cases. Corporate greed is why the economy is, and remains, in the toilet, not because you and I didn’t run out and buy a new car this week. But as long as they keep making the argument that it’s our fault, and are allowed to get away with it, they won’t fix it and they won’t change. And that WILL be our fault.
I’m not sure what we can do about it, but I suppose, for a start, we can keep behaving sensibly when it comes to spending and saving, not letting ourselves to get drawn into living way beyond our means again. Then the entire system will have to change, recognizing that continuous growth is neither sustainable nor desirable. That alone would be revolutionary, for individual families and for our nation as a whole. When the people move, everything else will have to move with them. It has ever been thus.