Friday, January 25, 2008

What This Country Needs is a Good Depression!

"What This Country Needs is a Good Depression!"

This is a blasphemous thought that goes through my head every time I drive by a nest of new McMansions that have seemingly sprung up overnight...

...or see them sprouting like some kind of poisonous mushrooms on the outskirts of quaint towns like Newton, New Jersey.

I’ve also thought it when I see teardown after teardown of perfectly good, smaller houses, which are being replaced by huge monstrosities that don’t fit with the neighborhood.
(Picture source: The National Trust. )

It occurs to me when I see the endless stream of malls and shopping centers, all full of places to buy, buy, buy – as they march up and down the highways, encroaching on the farmland and open spaces like some kind of aggressive cancer.

It is a thought that occurs to me as I am almost run down by a Hummer in a parking lot.

The idea has come to me when I read in the New York Times about people who MUST get their preschooler into the “right” preschool or else the child will never make it into the “right” college. And that every kid who is going to apply to college has to have expensive tutoring lessons to ace the SAT exams.

And it has certainly occurred to me when I see the Dow Jones at 14,000 – or even 11,000 – are these companies really worth so much more than the Dow Jones was worth 20 years ago, when it was at 2,000? (See chart below – isn’t there something wrong with this picture?) (source: Generational Dynamics)

Do we really need all this conspicuous consumption? Is it really good for our country? I don’t think it is.

We have become a society that doesn’t value anything old – if it’s old, throw it out and get a new one; if it’s old, tear it down and build a new one; if a person is old, they’re no longer a valuable resource or a potential marketing target, so they become invisible.

We have become a society that doesn’t value saving, but instead values instant gratification.

We have become a society that considers “buying” to be a patriotic duty.

So I often think to myself, “What this country needs is a good Depression.”

But I hadn’t really had the nerve to say it out loud, because it is conventional wisdom that a growing economy is generally a positive thing.

So imagine my delight when I looked at Nick’s blog and found he has the same idea. Finally I can say it out loud!
What this country needs is a good Depression!!!!

Nick’s point is that continued, capitalistic growth is using up resources at a huge rate and this growth is not sustainable.

Quoting from Earth Meanders, his post says:

“Economic growth is a deadly disease upon the Earth, with capitalism as its most virulent strain. Throw-away consumption and explosive population growth are made possible by using up fossil fuels and destroying ecosystems. Holiday shopping numbers are covered by media in the same breath as Arctic ice melt, ignoring their deep connection. Exponential economic growth destroys ecosystems and pushes the biosphere closer to failure.”

Nick’s hope is that this disaster can be prevented by an economic downturn:

“Economic collapse destroyed the Roman Empire, and the Nazis’ dream of global domination. I'm hopeful economic collapse will shrink the USA's addictions to consumerism, material wealth, and global destruction of nature's resources.”

Another aspect of the constant drive for more capitalist growth is the continued need for more and more resources, which results in poor political policies. These policies have led us to war in various locations and have resulted in our reputation suffering throughout the world, to say nothing of the millions of deaths that have occurred.

I urge you to go read the rest of his excellent post. I know no Presidential candidate could possibly win if they started speaking against Capitalism. But even if he or she is able to rein in the excesses we’ve seen in the past 8 years, it would be a start.


Florinda said...

This is an interesting and thought-provoking perspective. I have a slightly different angle; if capitalism were allowed to run rampant and the market was left to itself, that depression might well happen and serve as a correcting influence. But the social disruption it would cause would bring government intervention before that happened.

Or so it strikes me...

In any case, I'm not saying that I disagree with you.

Larry said...

You will see that Depression you speak of.

It will be the Great Bush Depression and it is coming just as they have planned.

Distributorcap said...

i dont know if capitalism is ALL bad, but American Capitalism and especially Bush Capitalism (which is just a derivative of Reagan Capitalism) is ALL bad.....

Maui ---- if a Hooverville opens by you I am moving. It is too cold and dirty in New York to have one in Union Square

FreakyNick said...

I forgot to include the collapse of the Soviet Union, was an also economic collapse.

I don't want to see a depression. I want to see our citizens start acting responsibly.

I think many people feel the same way, but don't want to give up any of the convenience they now enjoy.

It's time, we take too much of this world and make too many earthlings have to struggle and suffer to pay for our gluttony.

The again, in the back of my mind, a little voice is telling me that an economic collapse is just what the Bush administration has planned, that way he can declare a national emergency, declare marshal law, cancel the elections and remain in power.

Yes, I'm a little bit paranoid of our leaders. All their criminal activities have my mind concocting schizophrenic delusions.

distrbutorcap - Capitalism is not bad. It works well when the consumerism it demands is not out of control.

Guns aren't bad, either, it's how people use them that make them a possible danger.

Christopher said...

There's a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson that goes like this (I'll paraphrase badly): "We need a revolution every 50 years to keep Democracy vital."

I don't know if the attribution is correct or not. I haven't found it and some people say Jefferson never said it.

In any event, I think about this quote often and I see a startling degree of wisdom in the words.

We have gotten so far away from the original intent of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and our so-called elected lawmakers seem to find new and improved ways to limit our rights (think USA Patriot Act) every day.

Add to this the huge transfer of wealth out of the middleclass into the hands of a small group of elites (think Big Oil) and I truly wonder how much longer we can continue as a nation?

Mauigirl said...

Christopher, I swear I found a quote by Jefferson using almost those words but I can't find it at the moment. However, I found other quotations from letters he wrote that basically said the same thing:

"In Paris from 1787 to 1789, Jefferson sent three letters to Madison discussing the topic of periodic revolutions. In response to Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts, he wrote, 'I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.... It is a medecine [sic] necessary for the sound health of government.' In a subsequent letter, he wrote, 'I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive. The late rebellion in Massachusetts has given more alarm than I think it should have done. Calculate that one rebellion in 13 states in the course of 11 years, is but one for each state in a century and a half. No country should be so long without one.' Finally, just prior to his return to the United States, '[O]ne generation is to another as one independent nation to another.... [N]o society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation.... The constitution and the laws of their predecessors [are] extinguished then in their natural course with those who gave them being.... Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.'"

So basically Jefferson believes in a living Constitution and fairly radical change with every generation (so much for "strict constructionist" interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court).

Mauigirl said...

And to be clear, I think Jefferson believed in a changing Constitution not to limit our rights (as the current administration is trying to do) but to make sure our rights continue to be upheld.

Florinda, I agree - there has to be some kind of intervention before any economic collapse goes too far. My wish for another Depression doesn't go as far as returning to 1930's conditions and the amount of suffering they caused. I really say this kind of tongue-in-cheek but with basically the same feeling Nick has expressed, that people want too much, and it is ruining our country.

Larry, I'm not sure whether it will get that bad - certainly with the stimulus package, etc., it seems as if the Bush administration wants this economic recession to be short-lived. After all, a recession is basically what cost his father a second term in 1992. And while he's not running himself, I'm sure the administration wants to continue Republican rule.

DCap, it's just as cold here in New Jersey. We can all go to Maui and sleep on the beach. It would work for me!

Seriously, I don't think Capitalism is all bad (believe me, I am as big a consumer as anybody!). Just the way it's working right now.

After the Depression a number of safeguards were put in place, limiting how many financial functions different institutions could perform, etc., to try to prevent these types of crashes from happening. More recently some of these safeguards have been eliminated and with the rise of computers and other technologies, the financial world has changed a lot since then and it seems as if it's getting out of control, much as it did in the early 20th century leading up to the crash of 1929. So my feeling is, capitalism works but needs safeguards and limits. Communism didn't work either. Nothing taken to extremes ever does.

Nick, I agree - the citizens themselves are partly to blame for constantly wanting more and more. As for Bush planning to have this economic collapse as you and Larry suggest, I'm not so sure. I don't know whether it would cut the mustard for him to say "We're in a depression so you still need to keep us in power" - he might just inspire that revolution Jefferson talks about. If he was in charge when the depression happened, why would anyone accept that he needed to stay in power to fix it when he probably caused it?

Now, a terrorist attack right before the election - that I wouldn't put past them. I think that would be a better excuse for declaring martial law and not having an election. So I am just as paranoid as you but I don't think this economic situation is something they planned.

Randal Graves said...

That much needed revolution will never come, and unfortunately, once the next depression hits, not all that much will be done to lessen the chances of this happening again and Americans will still consume.

Only a monstrous shock to the system will change that. What form that'll take - total collapse, all out war, some superbug, who knows - will change that. You keep on giving kids ice cream, they'll eat it until they puke. Then when they feel better, back to ice cream it is.

The only force in America that can change things for the better for the long term is the people simply by their sheer numbers, but they're too numb to think long-term. Part of that is the new/old mentality you spoke of. We're such a young nation, and that has become such a part of the narrative: we're virile and vibrant, everyone else is old and decrepit. I like old stuff. I wish others did as well.

TomCat said...

What we have isn't really capitalism. Were Adam Smith to feast his eyes on a modern day multi-national corporation, he would poop his pants. What we have is a fascist corporate plutocracy.

The problem with depressions is this. the people they hurt are not the ones that cause them.

Mauigirl said...

Randal, you're right, it is hard to imagine the country truly changing its attitude long term. After 9/11 with all the talk of how "nothing would ever be the same," within a few weeks people were back to watching the celebrities and bickering among one another.

Tomcat, you are right. It is the poorest among us who suffer the most in a true depression. As I said, I don't really want an all-out depression but to Nick's and Randal's point, I think we do need some kind of slap upside the face to remind the citizens what matters in life. And that includes the rich people.

S said...

I'd agree, only I might lobby for a recession instead, because fewer people would jump out of office building windows...

We *are* coming into a recession, though, aren't we?

Tom Harper said...

I also have those same blasphemous thoughts for the same reasons you mentioned. Nice neighborhoods getting blighted with Starter Castles and McMansions, SUVs getting bigger and more common even as gas prices keep going up, etc.

I don't really want a depression, but I do have those thoughts sometimes.

Our current economic system is not capitalism. Individuals are allowed to sink or swim on their own (that's capitalism), but large companies are nurtured by a big soft all-encompassing nanny state. Their risks and expenses are underwritten by taxpayers, they keep all their profits, and if they fail they get bailed out by taxpayers. Nice work if you can get it.

Who Hijacked Our Country

Mauigirl said...

Slouching Mom, yes, it seems we are entering a recession, and I don't think this stimulus package will do much of anything to avert it. I was very disappointed that the Democrats went along with Bush and just limited it to these limited payouts rather than truly helping those who needed it the most by extending unemployment benefits, etc.

Tom, very good point, that it really isn't a free market when it comes to the big corporations who are getting those subsidies and other "corporate welfare" benefits.

LET'S TALK said...

Larry said it best; We will see that Depression you speak of."

"It will be the Great Bush Depression and it is coming just as they have planned."

There's nothing that any new President can do about it right away.

Sue J said...

Great post -- and great comments!

The US economy is so tied into the world economy now, I don't know if anyone really has a good handle on whether a depression is inevitable or not. I hope it's not, because there are an awful of of people in this country who are living paycheck to paycheck already. An economic depression would be devastating to them.

Those aren't the people, of course, buying the McMansions and the hummers, etc. They're the ones standing at the bus stop at 5:30 am, trying to get to their job at a fast food joint across town....

Mauigirl said...

Hi Sue,
I don't really think there will be a true "depression"; probably a recession. But it could have some good effects even for the less affluent - such as bringing the housing prices (here in the NY Metro area at least) down from the stratosphere and into a more affordable range for the normal person.

LT, I agree, it will be nothing that can be remedied quickly - too much damage has been done by the Bush administration. It will take time.

kuanyin333 said...

The 'planned'payouts are so miniscule--since they print up money as they like anyway, couldn't the government be a LOT more generous?!
What a joke and PR b.s. Big Change is indeed necessary.

Rhea said...

There was also a good post on No Impact Man today about a similar topic. He found that when he and his family forgo spending money and sitting in front of computers they are actually happier.

Mauigirl said...

I agree, a big change is needed.

Rhea, thanks for the tip, I'll check out his blog.

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