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23 October 2008

I may be way too much of a romantic but.... [More:] I think this whole economic downturn may turn out to be the best thing that happens in our generation.

The last twenty years have been an ever-accelerating vortex of self-indulgence and entitlement. Why do we deserve the best of everything? Why do we deserve luxury? Why do we deserve these things we have grown so accustomed to?

The answer is, we don't.

My hope is that the current downturn helps people do some soul-searching and really think about what makes life good. Is it getting the latest gadget, or is it sleeping in a warm bed? Is it having enough money to get the trophy wife, or having just enough to support the Mrs.? Is it to be extravagant, or to be thrifty stewards of the gifts that we have?

Like I said, I may be way to romantic, and I know there are people out there in real dire straights, but I sincerely hope that the lasting impact of the current economic crisis is that we simply re-examine our lives and choose to value the things that are really important.

In the end, I think we will, and that gives me hope for the future, and no dread.
I think you're right, there is something rather cleansing about it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 23 October | 23:35
"I sincerely hope that the lasting impact of the current economic crisis is that we simply re-examine our lives and choose to value the things that are really important."

Me too but I think we will go down kicking and screaming.
posted by arse_hat 23 October | 23:42
Count me in on the kicking and screaming.

I may not deserve fancy cheese or heirloom tomatoes, but I will be very sad if I have to give them up.
posted by small_ruminant 23 October | 23:45
I'm hoping this crisis will be the last nail in the coffin of trickle down economics and the idea of the self regulating economy.
posted by kellydamnit 24 October | 00:27
I think we may looking at a much-needed and permanent decline in our standard of living. The question is how fast it occurs -- overnight, we're talking Argentina levels of bad. A little slower is depression-era living. Slower still, we've got an extended and deep recession that will force us to carefully reconsider our personal and national priorities while not throwing a good chunk of the middle class into poverty. I'm really, really hoping for the latter scenario.
posted by treepour 24 October | 00:45
"I'm hoping this crisis will be the last nail in the coffin of trickle down economics and the idea of the self regulating economy."

Amen! But I'm not so sure about that as even Obama supported Telcom amnesty and other freep/supply side/Chicago school stuff. It seems so deeply ingrained.

On the up side Keynesian economics is back with a vengeance with all the world wide bank bail outs so who knows how it will play?
posted by arse_hat 24 October | 00:47
Take heart, S_R: If fancy cheese and heirloom tomatoes are your idea of the good life, then your only real problem is keeping the goat out of the garden.
posted by Triode 24 October | 00:59
But the goat can make for some great cheese!
posted by arse_hat 24 October | 01:05
but I sincerely hope that the lasting impact of the current economic crisis is that we simply re-examine our lives and choose to value the things that are really important.

Quite a few people will move on from materialism to this higher stage, to enlightenment, to consciously choosing what is important and living their lives accordingly.

And some will not. Some will retain that sense of entitlement and feel embittered and enraged that the cornucopia of late-20th century America has turned out to be a mirage. These will become the petty criminals, the scabs, the scammers, the demagogues and followers of demagogues.

Crises do bring out the best in some people; they also bring out the worst in some others.
posted by jason's_planet 24 October | 01:30
I think you are right to a certain extent, in the same way as the excesses of the '80s led to a much lower expectation of what is considered to be an acceptable standard of living among the middle class. The rich are not really affected in any meaningful way by economic shifts (with the exception of the unfortunate few scapegoats) and those on lower incomes continue to be so.

I don't personally see this as a crisis, more of a reset. If we didn't have one every now and again, we'd end up in some kind of horrible place I can't even imagine.
posted by dg 24 October | 02:51
Why do we deserve these things we have grown so accustomed to?

Why don't we? I don't think this recession will bring about any real changes in human nature.
posted by matthewr 24 October | 03:25
I think that for people whose safety net is well established and in place - homeowners, people with a retirement savings, people with reasonable job security and an expectation of continued health insurance, people without chronic debilitating medical conditions - a scaleback does represent an opportunity to shift values and priorities away from conspicuous overconsumption and toward a more meaningful way of life.

However, a relatively small number of people are in that position. A scaleback will represent a lot more than changing values and less cool stuff for people who have a very thin shield between having a place to live and not having enough for rent, having enough nutritious food and facing real hunger and inadequate nutrition, being able to continue to work and being unable to, being able to retire in old age and not being able to, being able to go to college and not being able to. If our recession/depression stays on the milder side, perhaps we can find ways to take care of some of these concerns as a society.

But having had grandparents who lived through the Depression as young adults, I can't romanticize it too much. An America in which people who want jobs don't have them is not a pleasant one no matter what your values are like. WHen it came time to do the first draft for World War II, fully 1/4 of draftees were judged unable to serve because malnutrition had weakened their bodies so severely - they had not had enough protein or fresh produce for years and years, and many had missing or rotten teeth, muscle atrophy, and other problems related to inadequate diet. (Incidentally, that draft's findings was the reason the school lunch program began - to insure basic adequate nutrition for one meal a day). People whose immune systems were weakened died. A lot of babies died.

So I think that though some of us definitely welcome relief from the "spend! spend! spend!" message we've been living with for years, there will be a more serious impact on those who have the least security. It could be more than just a few less dinners out for people for whom $50 in cash per week makes the difference between eating crap and eating decent food, being able to get to work or not, or paying for your drugs. It's hard to be romantic about that side of the picture.
posted by Miko 24 October | 07:16
Thanks, Miko. As someone who has lots of bills and no job and can't afford heirloom tomatoes and fancy cheese (dammit) and is getting a bit freaked out about making it through the next few months without getting collection agencies involved, this is not a romantic scale-down. This is scary. And I'm better off that a lot of people.
posted by Specklet 24 October | 07:21
Good, bad, what it does is widen and polarize the divide between the haves and have nots at a time when little children have mobile phones and the elderly aren't sure how to get their televisions to work.
It's been a long time coming but the people worst effected are the ones least able to deal and unequipped to understand broader context, while the people who come out well somehow escape clean and unnoticed.
A hard rain is exciting from a covered porch or a warm window seat; it generally sucks even with a decent umbrella.
posted by ethylene 24 October | 08:13
A hard rain is exciting from a covered porch or a warm window seat

Very well put, eth.
posted by Miko 24 October | 08:21
I have thought about the very same thing, doohickie. I have dreamed that we will stop buying stuff we don't need and push back our ratty couches and dance in our old clothes and have sex instead of caring about our possessions. Like they did in the seventies.

I really do not want any business to fail. I just like the idea of scaling back and making do. It is a romantic notion. I guess I would put myself in that small percentage Miko talked about. This is why I can think about such things.
posted by LoriFLA 24 October | 08:37
I don't think this will be any fun at all. I've often bemoaned the amount of the economy devoted to creating useless gewgaws and wished that that workforce could be devoted to creating useful things and infrastructure that people really need.

You could blame human nature for that, but I blame saturation marketing for appealing to people's worst traits. Blame people for taking out ridiculous mortgages? Saturation marketing telling everyone they could do it, and seeing all their peers doing it, what else would you expect people to do?

I worry that society in general will get uglier as more people get laid off, etc. /rambling
posted by DarkForest 24 October | 08:51
What Miko said. I'm too poor for the economic downturn to be a good thing. I still haven't really launched a career and I'm terrified that companies might not be hiring for my qualifications until they can be sure of growth.

Yeah, it's nice to be all fuzzy romantic about focusing on what's really important blah blah. But to me right now, money *is* what's important. If I have enough money, that means I can move out, move elsewhere, buy a car, and start living by my own schedule and priorities instead of having to call home if I'm going to be 30 minutes late so the parents don't freak out.

Money is freedom.
posted by casarkos 24 October | 12:02
i've been anxiously waiting the next WPA so i can paint murals and take a stab and being the next Diego Rivera.
(Should have taken that mural job in LA decade ago. Eh.)
posted by ethylene 24 October | 12:12
I know how lucky I am compared with most people. But something I've noticed in the UK is the sense of entitlement many people seem to have. Social security benefits are meant to provide the basic necessities for people, but those necessities now seem to include things that a few years ago were considered luxuries - giant flat-screen televisions, satellite TV, 8-burner double-oven stoves (that are never used), two cars per family, cigarettes, designer clothes, holidays. I saw this woman on Oprah a while ago and she epitomises the spend-spend-spend with no thought of the consequences attitude that makes my skin crawl.

I'm not saying it's wrong for people to want these things, but I'm firmly of the "Can't afford it? Can't have it!" school of thought. But people on low incomes or benefits believe that they must have these things. When I was a divorce lawyer it never ceased to amaze me the standard of living that clients on social security had, and expected to continue to have, funded by cash-in-hand jobs, compensation settlements (soooo many of my clients had several ongoing claims for compensation for one thing or another, all dealt with through dodgy ambulance-chasing firms) or non-status credit.

Companies such as this advertise heavily on daytime TV. That 47" TV could be yours for just 999. Don't have the cash? Don't worry, it'll be yours in just three years, but you'll pay 2213.64 for it. That leather sofa that you could buy for cash in Harveys for about 600 will only cost you 2962.44. It probably will have fallen to bits well before you've paid for it but, what the hell.

But for a lot of people, they have nothing to fall back on but possessions. My sister, for example, sees things only in terms of their monetary worth. She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. She's not alone, there are millions of people in the UK who wouldn't have a clue how to cope if their luxuries were taken away.

The things I have that make my life easier - a car, a computer, all my little kitchen gadgets, my gym membership, etc. - are all things I could manage without if I had to. But I don't define myself through those things. It doesn't matter to me if somebody drives the 'right' car or not. In fact, I see blokes driving round here in their Ferraris and my first thought is 'wanker'.

So, yeah, Doohickie, I think for many of the people in the middle, a little belt-tightening might do them good. For a lot of people (particularly in the States where there's no safety net), it's going to be tough.

posted by essexjan 24 October | 12:26
It could have a unifying effect, but it will have a distinct divisive effect.
People lack the history, time spent on the earth aware, to understand a world without modern conveniences as the norm.
It will be better when after the walls fall down, but look at the mess it makes and the people who can only see rubble.
Community trumps possessions, but if you have neither?
Community building doesn't need money as much as it needs effort, consideration and action.
posted by ethylene 24 October | 12:33
rabbits
posted by ethylene 24 October | 13:06
Frankly, you can keep your romance. I prefer a full refrigerator. It's hard to be romantic when you're hungry.

Jobs are key, and a lot of people are losing their jobs. Some are predicting an 8% unemployment rate, worse in some areas, particularly in manufacturing. Granted, that's not the 25-30% of the Great Depression, but it's bad enough. We had a union rep. at our school today explaining the ins and outs of teacher layoffs, an uncomfortable subject to be sure. I'm lucky. I have seven years in and tenure, which affords a certain amount of security, but the first-year science teacher next to me was nervous. People, in general, were on the edge of their chairs. With any luck, it won't come to that.

I have dreamed that we will stop buying stuff we don't need and push back our ratty couches and dance in our old clothes and have sex instead of caring about our possessions. Like they did in the seventies.

Uh, would that be the 1870s? Cause, for me, the 1970s meant foodstamps, hours at the state welfare office with my birth mother, sleeping by the stove to keep warm, hand-me-down clothes (which I was delighted to have), my mother's depression and alcoholism, and days where that school lunch was, in fact, the only meal. Certainly there are many in the world who have it much worse still. It's hard to dance when you're hungry and tired and dirty.

I'm sorry to be so harsh. I heard Hoover's, of all people's, stupid grandaughter on TV this morning talking about how it was those "New Deal Programs" that have now ruined our economy. Yeah, let's go back to children begging on the street and the elderly eating cat food. That'll really be romantic.
posted by Pips 24 October | 18:07
I have dreamed that we will stop buying stuff we don't need and push back our ratty couches and dance in our old clothes and have sex instead of caring about our possessions. Like they did in the seventies.


.... what? [/lived through the seventies, it wasn't like that]

Or what Pips said, without quite so much genuine hardship.
posted by jokeefe 25 October | 02:22
I wanna live like Common People
I wanna do whatever Common People do
posted by casarkos 25 October | 02:51
What else could i do?

I don't know why but I had to start it somewhere, so it started there.
I said pretend you've got no money, she just laughed and said oh you're so funny.
I said yeah? Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here.
posted by ethylene 25 October | 03:33
"I went to college, and all they found were rats in my head."
posted by ethylene 25 October | 03:39
simply re-examine our lives and choose to value the things that are really important.


"OK, either I can spend $10 on gas to move the car I sleep in so it won't get impounded but then I won't have anything to eat, or I can spend $10 on canned beans but I won't have anywhere to sleep. I'd better choose which one I value soon, as it's getting dark and the stray dogs are sounding hungry".
posted by cmonkey 25 October | 04:08
my cat has fleas || so i'm becoming a bit of nintendo ds geek

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