Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The New Poverty

I've been batting about the idea recently that, in terms of materialism, choice is the new poverty. By this I mean:  

  1. It's very time-consuming to wade through all the options these days.  Decisions are stressful and stress is a kind of impoverishment, as is spending hours and hours shopping online.  But then we're all shopped-out as a nation, right? Ask Wal-Mart and McDonalds.
  2. What happened to the one good thing, the single best tool for the job?  Like the good-old-fashioned thirty-year mortgage you actually had to qualify for in real terms, or the bank that wasn't taking ridiculous risks with your money – credit crunch, anyone?
  3. Choice should not be confused with freedom.  Remember, we're talking materialism here, not human rights.  Free to maintain a sane life relatively unscathed, versus choices that bury you and your country in debt and waste.
  4. The wealthy can buy the best and forget the rest, they have it down.  Not too many choices at the top:  Range Rover or Galendawagen; Cartier or ...well, Cartier.  You get the idea.  Oh, for the simple life of diamonds and country estates with treacherous gravel driveways.
  5. And now we have competing issues:  Green energy v. cheap energy; organic v. locally-grown; personal freedom v. nanny state (e.g. the UK); threat of attack v. global vilification (no need to clarify here).

So, what do I propose?

  1. Downsize and simplify.  Live a less cluttered life.  Many of us are being forced from the relative impoverishment of choice to the greater impoverishment of actual poverty, or at least one step closer to it, so make like a monk.
  2. Bring home the troops and bring down the cost of our military by untold billions of dollars a year.  Spend the money we save on the people who need it, like the disabled veterans, the homeless, the poor and the sick.  Which, any minute now, will be all of us.
  3. Think small and green.  No, not leprechauns, but tiny houses – or at least not McMansions – and energy efficient ones at that.  The same applies to our cars, trucks, SUVs and oil tankers.
  4. Buy less junk you don't really need.  As the 44th president just said in his inauguration speech, "Put away childish things."  The marketplace will probably take care of this, as we realize, increasingly, that the inflatable Santa in the garden isn't really necessary for the enjoyment of Christmas.  (Sorry China.)
  5. Meditate before you shop.

Remember, choice may be the new poverty, but until we have a benevolent dictator to lead us by the hand out of the ashes (...or perhaps we do now), we still get to chose how to simplify and improve our lives by living responsibly.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the much more exciting backlash to this sort of moralistic belt-tightening.  Bring it on!

Image from Motor Trend.

No comments:

Post a Comment