So I had hoped that one good thing that might possibly come out of this economic collapse would be the end, or at least, the amelioration, of our culture of consumerism here in America. In recent months, we have seen the national savings rate jump from about -2% (where it had been for years--no joke) to about +5% (most countries average about +10%). This suggested than many Americans were beginning to show some common sense--don't spend what you don't have, but instead start saving so you will have something to spend later.But it seems that we are beyond the reach of reason. This judgment was forced jarringly upon me by the recent issue of Newsweek, the cover of which declares: "I WANT YOU! To Start Spending: Invest in America, Before it's Too Late"
Of course, I assumed at first that it was just a parody of what the politicians have been saying--we've all heard Obama and the rest talk about how we have to get credit flowing again and Americans spending again. But no, this was no parody. The headline of the story inside said "STOP SAVING NOW!" And no, this was no parody either. Within the article, the columnist explained that while no one wanted to go back to rampant credit-driven speculation, nevertheless, we needed to be willing to get back into debt, and to start "investing in America" by spending. I blinked a couple times and reread the offending sentences, and found that yes, indeed, we Americans were being told: "No, don't save, but start investing instead, which means spending." Now, I know I'm not a certified financial planner yet or anything, and my education in economics has been a little informal, but my understanding was that investing was what you did when you saved, and spending is what you did when you didn't want to save/invest. However, so thoroughly have we become convinced that endless consumerism is the only way that we have survived that we have inverted the terminology--investing is now what you do when you spend, and saving is what you do when you're too stupid to spend/invest. I fear now that, as soon as economic conditions improve marginally, Americans are going to gleefully leap back on the train of rampant consumerism until they finally drive right off a cliff (assuming this isn't already the cliff.
PS: My cynicism was mollified somewhat by the appearance of a Time cover story this last week called The End of Excess, which though I didn't take the time to do more than glance at it, appeared to be taking the opposite tack of the Newsweek piece. I shall henceforth get my dose of standard vapid American public opinion from Time, rather than Newsweek