There are many memories of the days following 9/11, for me, but one of the most memorable, oddly, is the president telling everyone to get back to business as usual: "Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed." I totally understand what he was trying to do and why, of course - to reassure the American people after fear had suddenly paralyzed everyone. Even his brother, Jeb Bush, said, "We need to respond quickly so people regain confidence and consider it their patriotic duty to go shopping...." The truth, though, sometimes hurts. And what is the truth embedded in these quotes? Our whole economy depends on consumerism.
It's that time of year again - Halloween is over and The Holidays are in full swing, with businesses flooding radio, TV, and other media with the message, "Go shopping!" Of course, it's a catch-22: Companies don't hire workers because there is not much demand for their products because people can't afford to buy; people can't afford to buy because they have lost their jobs because companies aren't hiring workers....and on and on.
Our local Lowe's, for instance, announced its closure last week, with many employees suddenly out of work. It was apparently an "underperforming" store. Now, Ed and I have shopped at Lowe's many times, but still there was the nagging guilt in my head: Should we have shopped there more to save all those jobs? Do I really have to spend beyond my means in order to be patriotic and help the economy?
In the next couple of months, consumerism will be paramount. The messages are all similar: Spending a lot on a gift shows you love someone. Spending more than you can afford helps the economy and saves jobs. Maxing out your credit card will enable you to have happy holidays when you don't have the cash; in fact, with some credit card offers, you even get a percentage of your expenditures back, so the more you spend, the more you "save." It's much better to buy something you really don't need at half price for $50 than for full price at $100. (The option of not buying it at all is never mentioned.)
We have to feel some sadness for the state of the world, our country, our economy, and our addiction to a lifestyle that is not sustainable in the long run. Just as banks should not become too big to fail, an economy totally based on buying (and charging) more and more and more is doomed to falter. Those who cannot afford to buy, or choose not to buy, or limit what they buy, should not be made to feel guilty for their lack of "appropriate participation" in bringing our economy back to life.
I'm so sorry for those folks at Lowe's and every other place whose jobs were lost or cut because I'm buying less than I used to, but for me, to live within my means and to live with personal integrity, that's the way it has to be. We know in our hearts that "buy more stuff" is not the message of Christmas or Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or any of the other religious observances - but it comes through loud and clear anyway. Sigh. Happy Holidays.