Monday, October 13

The Word today: Frugality

We are still very much in the deep end of the finanacial crisis and some are finding values they never thought they had. The word to learn is Frugality, this week issue of Business Week is looking into America's new (un)shopping habit. There is also an article on teenagers learning frugality in the New York Times. If they can't afford it in the real world, it might be best to buy it in the virtual world: according to Gaia Chief Executive Craig Sherman, "as the 'real world' gets worse, virtual worlds get better."
Last but not least Thom Fordes is also looking at the issue, read the article below

Enjoy but with moderation

As Financial Markets Tumble, Consumerism Is Under Siege
Bill Moyers Journal, NOW, Real Time With Bill Maher, The New York Times, Detroit Free Press, “What Would Jesus Buy?” Financial Times, CNN/Money, Brandweek, Ad Age
I don't know about your media experiences over the weekend, but everywhere I looked I was being hit on the head with the message that the day of reckoning over our excesses occurred at some unspecified hour last week. Having willfully overextended ourselves and blithely consumed far more than we produced for far too long, we are all going to hell in an empty shopping cart along with the buy-now-pay-later society we created.

Not good news for people who sell things, in other words, from overextended houses to electronic gimcracks and Christmas gewgaws. But let's start out with a message of hope.

On Friday evening, Bill Moyers conducted a fascinating interview with financier George Soros, who says that the motor of our economy for 25 years -- consumption -- has sputtered out. But Soros believes "we can create a new motor to deal with one of the main aspects of our over-consumption problem -- energy," according to a synopsis of the chat on the "Bill Moyers Journal" site. "Combating global warming will require a huge amount of effort -- the amount of change and development that can restart an economy," Soros maintains.

Earlier in the evening, David Brancaccio ran a piece on "NOW," establishing the relationship between high gas prices and drastically lowered real estate values in exurbia. The underlying message was that we will have to get back to planning communities in which people can walk/bike/take public transit -- a decidedly different concept than what has driven growth in recent decades. We'll see how it plays out. I love walking to, and buying from, the vendors at the Farmer's Market in my small, walkable village that's 35 minutes by rail from Grand Central Terminal. But I spend a lot more money each week at a combination of the A&P, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Costco, all of which I drive to. Sheepishly, I admit that I don't see that changing.

Later Friday night, Bill Maher's "Real Time" interview with former Controller General David Walker on HBO was truly scary. According to Walker, the true national debt is $55 trillion -- or $480,000 per household (and our median HH income is less than $50,000). According a Detroit Free Press analysis of the middle-class debt crises this morning, the average household already holds more than $110,000 in mortgage and other debt, against annual personal savings of around $400. Walker, for his part, has been sounding the drumbeat against our wastrel ways for a while; the documentary "I.O.U.S.A." features him crisscrossing the nation warning about the federal government's unsustainable fiscal policies.

In fact, many of the media messengers this weekend have an "I told you so" tone, making me wonder how we could all get caught with our fiscal pants down. Where were all these Cassandras a few months ago? Or why weren't we listening to them? What made us think we could get away with our behavior this time, if it always caught up with us in the past?

On Sunday, the Times' Thomas Friedman wrote , "We are where we are today because we went on a credit binge and we're now paying the price ... A lot of wealth is going to be wiped out." Across the op-ed spread, Maureen Dowd 's second graf reads, "The decline and fall of the American Empire echoes the experience of the Romans ..." Jim Dwyer, meanwhile, took us inside Civil Court in Manhattan on Saturday. "What happens in the civil courts are the last tremors of an economy built around the twin seductions of consumption and debt, a dance portrayed in "In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts," a 2007 documentary by Danny Schechter," he writes. Okay, maybe we weren't paying attention.

And wouldn't it just be my luck that "What Would Jesus Buy?" worked its way to the top of my Netflix queue this weekend? Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir believe that "the corporations" want us to have experiences only through their products. Beyond wagging its finger for excess consumerism and making the familiar point that big-box stores have not been kind to Main Street shopping in small towns across America, the documentary connects the dots between our easy access to credit and the shopping boom. Many is the time I've been told that a book idea is really a magazine article; you may see all you need to see by watching the movie's trailer .

Joe Nocera, whose Saturday column in the Times is often spot-on, quotes James Grant, editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer, about why, as a species, we are prone to repeated "bouts of financial insanity."

"Money, like sex, brings out some thought -- but also much heavy breathing and little stored knowledge," Grant says. "In finance, the process is cyclical. Some people learn from their ancestors, but mostly they repeat the same mistakes."

Fascinating stuff


  1. If it means people start to focus more on quality rather than quantity and think more carefully about enduring value then the inevitable privations for many won't be entirely in vain. Opportunities abound for anyone really serious about emotionally durable design.

  2. I completely agree, I think the throwaway culture we are living in is insane and unsustainable. This should help us rethink design and planning for the communities