First of all, there's my new bicycle. Rachel's comments really got me to thinking about the whole concept of whether or not we "deserve" things. It's an interesting and somewhat complicated topic when you really start to think about it. Do we "deserve" recreational items or expensive shoes? How about paper plates? What about health care or food?
The Non-Consumer Advocate is running a SNAP challenge where people are challenged to keep their food budgets within the food stamp allotment for a family of their size.
This, of course, set off a contentious and somewhat moralistic discussion about food choices and spending choices in general. One woman related a story about a family that was on public assistance yet refused to give up their iPhones and cable television.
I, of course, weighed in with my general observation that people waste their money on stupid stuff... admittedly not the best context in which to make such an argument, since I fear some folks thought I was saying that people on public assistance somehow didn't "deserve" the help or simply made poor spending choices - which was not my point at all.
At any rate, one woman who was struggling financially piped in with the comment that everyone "deserves" some luxuries and conveniences - even poor people. There's that word again.
And then yesterday, CatMan spent several hours talking with an old friend that he's known since they were teenagers. Part of the discussion was his friend's confession that although he's been earning a six digit salary for over 20 years now, he's completely broke. Oy!
Sooooo... all of that has my little brain hopping with complicated and often contradictory thoughts. Part of just me feels like shaking some sense into people.
How in god's name could someone fritter away hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and have practically nothing to show for it?!? I mean, I know this guy and it's not like he lives a particularly luxurious lifestyle. What on earth is he spending it all on?
And what about the "poor people" and their "luxuries." Do they "deserve" them? Do any of us "deserve" luxuries? Is it "fair" to spend tax dollars helping people who might not make the "best" financial decisions? Aren't these people a drain on our economy... gobbling up tax dollars for their "benefits?"
Well... in reality, no - they're not a "drain" at all. I mean, whatever you think about the "fairness" of it all, the fact is that if you want to stimulate the economy, one of the best things you can do is to give money to "poor people," because they will immediately spend it, which circulates the money and makes the economy grow.
So there we have the conundrum in a nutshell. Our entire economic system is based on consumerism. If people don't spend money, the economy collapses.
Now, I might think that CatMan's friend is being "irresponsible" by "wasting" his six figure salary on whatever it is he's been spending it on, but in a very real economic sense he is the upstanding citizen, and I am the dangerous radical who's threatening our country's well being by keeping so much of my "wealth" locked up in the bank. How's that for bass-ackwards?
So the reality of the situation is that all of these people who are spending money on iPhones and cable television, and convenience foods, and whatever else they're spending it on - they're not doing anything other than filling the role that our society wants them to fill. In a very real sense, they're doing what they are "supposed" to do, they are consuming!
I mean really - I'm the one who's not following the instructions here, not them! How on earth can we expect people to "resist the urge" to spend money when everything about our society tells them that spending is what they are supposed to do?
But it occurred to me this morning that part of the problem with all of these lines of thinking is that they are based on a false premise - that spending money is somehow more desirable than not spending money. Now, clearly everyone really does need certain things - food, water, shelter, access to healthcare - and to my way of thinking, in a society as wealthy as ours these things ought to be rights not privileges.
But beyond basic necessities and yes - a few luxuries, does more spending really equate to more happiness? In my experience the answer is a resounding NO! And when you look at it in that light, it really turns the whole "fairness" argument on its head.
Is it "fair" that CatMan's friend has had to work is ass off 60-70 hours per week for the past few decades in order to fulfill his role as consumer? Is it "fair" that I get to sit around enjoying the luxury of time because I have refused to "do my part" for the consumer culture?
I honestly don't know the answers to any of these questions, and in a sense I guess it's sort of pointless to even try to figure it all out. I mean it's not like any of us has the power to change our economic system even if we did have all of the answers.
I guess in the end all we can do is try to make the best decisions that we can for ourselves and our families, while remaining compassionate to the plight of those around us - both the folks struggling to get by as well as those struggling with their roles as "consumers" in this crazy culture of ours.
I'm curious... what do y'all think about all this?