Monday, September 29, 2008

The Wrong Turn To A Dead End

Unlike our intrepid leaders in Washington, I'm not even going to pretend to understand the current financial crisis and its kazillion-dollar Band-Aid. Does anyone really get it? Doesn't sound like it to me... although soon a lot of dollar bills will be picked from taxpayers' pockets to cushion another economic blow.

Although every "Main Streeter" I've seen interviewed has an opinion, and although every politician who sucks on the public teat acts as though they get it -- who can really comprehend the depth of this debacle? Analyses of the problem and solution change daily from every talking head "expert."

To my mind, at some point in the late 1950's or early 1960's, Madison Avenue sharpies packaged greed in a bottle, slapped a "Drink Me" sticker on it, and the American culture slid down the rabbit hole of consumerism. Who knew the bottle would have a trillion-dollar price tag 45 years later?

Maybe it's my gnawing secret desire to be walled up like a Carthusian monk in Chartreuse with a bed, a book and a robe -- but so much of our gimme, gimme, gimme culture makes me...... puke.

I haven't just read about the 50's and pre-hippie 60's in some cultural anthropology class... I lived those years, and damned if I don't think we've been duped and screwed by the Age of Aquarius.

Yeah, yeah, I know -- you can't go back -- except that, in making personal decisions regarding a lifestyle, you CAN make changes. I've done it... others have done it... in reaction to the convulsive compulsion to purchase, purchase, purchase until... well, you know the end of that sentence.

Back in the good old days you saved real money to buy stuff you really needed. You stuck the money in a sock, or a savings account at a bank, a Christmas Club account, or even a lay-away plan, with a cute little payment card that showed a declining balance until the objet du desir was yours, all yours. You actually owned your possessions. Because you slaved and saved until you made a substantial down payment and earned manageable mortgage payments, you owned a good chunk of your home, too.

You didn't move up to a trendy, vastly more expensive home every three years. You didn't replace hard goods -- or even many soft goods -- until they actually wore out... and, products didn't carry a preplanned time of demise...they were made to last.

You drove your car until it circled up and died, and cars were purchased for, gulp, cash -- but then, they didn't cost as much as your parents' home, either.

Except for the uber rich we only read about in Life Magazine, weddings didn't cost upwards of $50,000. Birthday parties for kids meant Kool-Aid, a nut cup, a homemade cake and pinning the tail on the donkey. Reindeer still parked on our roofs, of course, but there was still room to walk in the living room after Santa flew back up the chimney.

Summer vacations meant a road trip, a week or two at the beach or camping, not round-the-world cruises. A movie with popcorn cost maybe a buck, with enough change for a Coke on the bus ride home. Remember the bus?

The doctor (the one who came to your house) had to be paid real money from dad's checking account...but the doc also didn't order a $1500 CT scan when Pop was a little constipated... prunes, Mr. Jones, prunes.

Music and art were expected at school, public or private, because enough money was allocated for those programs. Public libraries were open every day and most evenings, and weren't first on the municipal budget chopping block.

In unseen but very real costs to society, kids behaved or faced consequences, and the drug problem meant the school nurse was out of aspirin. Sex ed was an embarrassing conversation with mom or dad, or a titillating one with your best friend. There were abortions, to be sure, but surely not the million-plus done every year in the U.S.

Our parents had lived through the Great Depression and learned the hard lesson of living to needs, not wants. Even though they reached upper middle class status, we still had one pair of school shoes, one pair of play shoes, and one pair to wear for "good." (Poor Mom only had two pair, since she didn't go to school.)

Oh yeah... Mom. Mom stayed home and we all lived on one income. If not queen of the women's lib movement, I'm at least a princess -- but there's a lot to be said for a two parent household where one stays home to raise the family. (Discussed further here.)

Nostalgia, while sweet, is also pointless. Until someone proves the M Theory and we can ooze between different universes, we can't ever go back in time, and I'm sure most wouldn't want to. I swear on my Mickey Mouse watch, however, that the only benefits I'd personally retain from today's world would be the polio vaccine and Google.

We've been assured by gurus in Wall Street and Washington that we don't face another Great Depression -- or even a "deep recession." My retirement accounts are bleeding, as most others' are, so I hope they're right. If those wizards are wrong, we're in for a tornado more disruptive than Dorothy's... but maybe scaling back greed and acquisitiveness would be our Oz.


annie kelleher said...

i think one reason the good old days look so good is because they don't change like the new ones do. in their very predictability, there's comfort. but maybe thats just me - as i seem to rack up more old days faster and faster. personally, i think the press was at fault by continuing to describe the required action as a "bailout." it's more along the lines of an investment - but no one explained it to the public that way. i fear that there's too much political wrangling involved in this to allow any clear explanation to surface.

Anonymous said...

You write: "we're in for a tornado more disruptive than Dorothy's... but maybe scaling back greed and acquisitiveness would be our Oz."

The depression is going to happen as we watch the US become a huge third-world nation. My father said 50 years ago that the greatest danger to America was corporate greed and no one paid any attention to him. Like in many other things, I now have to say "Pop, you were right."

Anonymous said...

i am not sure i am sad this bill was defeated. these people are so criminal

Anonymous said...

Re birthday parties for kids: someone in DC, who owns a fancy restaurant, had a birthday party for his daughter who was turning 16. He hired a couple of fairly well-know rappers (if you pay attention to that kind of thing) and some people to pretend to be paparazzi to ooh and ahh over her as she got out of a limo with her friends. I think they called it a Hollywood party, or some such thing. Spent a fortune on it. (Got it written up in the W. Post, too.)

And Americans wonder why so much of the world dislikes us.

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