By Jay Fidell
From Black Friday to Christmas, money is king, surrounded by rampant consumerism. The national and local economies are based largely on retail, especially now. You’d think there was a bottomless pit of money to fuel the trip from here to Christmas.
The money train seems to pick up regardless of recession and trade imbalance, national deficit and credit card overspending, mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcies. So how much is on the train, and when does the train run out of gas or more aptly oil?
At Hanukah, Judah and the Macabees were blessed to find that a one-day supply of lighting oil lasted eight days. Does it work the same way with the money train? Not a chance. Absent divine intervention, all such things are finite and must come to an end.
Documentary producer Charles Ferguson, who was on Charlie Rose last night, talked about unprecedented income inequality in Inside Job (covering the bailout on Wall Street - see my blog), and columnist Frank Rich talked about it in a recent piece in the New York Times.
Get used to it. This is the generation with less money than its parents. This is the generation where wealth disparity is greater than before. There must be at least a low-level public awareness of this, and a disappointment of earlier more optimistic expectations.
George W. Bush went a long way to exacerbate the disparity, but it's not over. Given the level of federal spending and deficit, Congress may freeze federal salaries and cut earmarks. This is going to affect Hawaii big time, including many people you know. Then see what happens when Social Security and Medicare are cut.
Some say the next war will not be about oil, but water. How about neither of those, but money? While we fiddle, China is buying our paper, which could be central in a money war. And some say that such a war is going on even now as China acquires that paper.
When the dollar goes down against other currencies, they say that helps sell our exports, but actually we don’t have so many exports. We owe billions to foreign investors. We don’t manufacture – we import fuel, food and most manufactured goods. When the dollar goes down, we pay more for all those imports. Can this be good?
We take unlimited money for granted, especially at Christmas, but we shouldn’t. There’s one immutable rule – if you spend everything you have, you don’t have any more - not for infrastructure, social security, health care, or anything else. This isn’t rocket science.
It’s not a bottomless pit. We need to find ways to become less material and escape from the world of invidious comparison and conspicuous consumption, back to the world of Walden Pond and inner-directed values. What better time to do that than now?
Hawaii is rapidly becoming the Consumer State. Shopping is our avocation, our exercise and our opiate. We don't go hiking, biking or to the symphony. Shopping is the activity of choice. We scour the ads; we find the bargains; we work for excellence in spending our money. We spend so much time and money shopping that we are third in the nation for credit card debt, some $5,000 per capita.
On the train track back from Black Friday to Christmas, wouldn't it be better to focus on things other than spending money you don't have on things you don't need. Retailers counting sales may see this as anathema but that assumes shopping is our new religion.
I know nobody’s going to buy this iconoclasm at Christmas. But even if we don’t want to think about it at Christmas, we can take a look at it next year when the inequality I’m talking about is likely to be even more pronounced. We need to take a breather, and spend our money improving our community not just our storage lockers.