Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The front page of the New York Times trumpets, like something from The Onion, that "Americans cut back significantly on personal consumption" last month. It goes on to quote a woman who lives in Manhattan and shops at Saks but sniffs that "everything just feels more expensive to me now." Though the poor have suffered in the last year, "the wealthy have spent freely, keeping high-end chains insulated from the economic turbulence." Alas, in December, those people "held off on buying $300 designer shoes and $500 dresses." Tiffany is feeling the pinch, as are American Express cardholders, who charge an average of $12,000 a year on their cards but are having trouble paying it back.

The plight of Saks and Tiffany and their shoppers really is an awful thing, but all sarcasm aside, I get the impression that the writer thinks a decrease in consumption is a bad thing. Apparently the well-being of the United States is linked to the continuing purchase of Wiis, iPods, SUVs and oversized homes to store an Xbox and two SUVs. I see few reasons why a decrease in consumption is a bad thing. The lost jobs will be bad, sure, as will the effects on people who can't afford to buy things that actually matter, though the largest newspaper in America's largest city couldn't find too many of those. Still, the decrease in consumption itself is a good thing. Fewer people will be distracted by trinkets, baubles and other shallow pursuits. Fewer old cell phones, laptops and batteries will make their way into landfills in China, and fewer resources will be consumed.

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