I don’t mean to sound like a cranky geezer, but sometimes I’m just struck by the level of consumerism in the world today. “Affluenza” has reached pandemic proportions – it’s a runaway beer truck that cannot be stopped. Comparing the world of my youth to that of my children, I’m blown away by the contrast.
In elementary school I had probably less than 10 toys – a Stretch Armstrong, a Shogun warrior, a Six Million Dollar Man, plastic army men, etc… and that’s all I freaking owned! No cell phone, no Wii, no laptop, no iPod, no TV, no nothing except a few crummy toys. I wasn’t poor either – this was common among my age group.
Add to that, I had a rather cheap and pathetic wardrobe: a couple pairs of Wrangler Toughskins, maybe a Garanimal, a few cheapo shirts with numbers on them, a couple pairs of socks with nice wide stripes, and one pair of tennis shoes. Plus, we never did anything that cost much money. No big expensive birthday parties, and dinner at a sit-down restaurant was rare. So, what the hell happened?
A few years into the 1980’s there was an economic boom resulting in a tidal wave of consumerism. No more gas shortages and mortgages rates at 14%; this was a time to revel in our excesses. Within a few years, the dude next door who always sat on his porch smoking reefer strumming his guitar is now a day trader, driving a beemer, and listening to Taylor Dayne. Livin’ the dream, baby!
It didn’t take long for all that disposable income and available credit to find its way into corporate hands. All sorts of things were invented that everyone supposedly “needs”: cable, cell phones, credit cards, high speed internet, a computer, flat screen Hi Def TV’s, etc. Plus television (via HGTV, TLC, Martha Stewart, etc.) tells us that our homes need to be perfect in every detail.
Oddly enough, this sort of thing contributed to our current economic decline. The bubble burst. Wall Street got increasingly greedy and corrupt and everyday people bought way more than they could afford. The prosperity that began during the Reagan era would seem to be coming to an end.
Okay, so I’m not telling you anything new – everyone knows the Boomers sold out and we're on a downturn. A fluctuating economy is a fact of life – there’s always going to be highs and lows, and the highs are always punctuated with a rise in materialism. I guess what I'm wondering is where will we be on the graph in the upcoming years? Still on a slope going downward? And if so, how low will the trough be?
Only time will tell, but I'm optimistic. I don't think we'll fall into another Great Depression, but that doesn't mean I think we will necessarily still have all this credit and cash flow to buy all these so-called "necessities" either.... which is not such a bad thing. We had less in the 70's, but we weren't any less happy. I was content with my Stretch Armstrong - it wasn't much, but that was OK.