Friday, February 22, 2008

Consumed Economy

Every year, our church dedicates February & March to a 6-week-long special event. They encourage everyone to join a small group, they distribute study materials for each group and each individual, and they use the weekend services to set up the topics for individual study and group discussion each week. This year, approximately 40 other churches in the Cincinnati area have joined in as well.

This year, the theme is Consumed:
"Bombarded with the promises of savvy marketers and easy credit, we’re offered beauty, significance, security, and happiness in just six easy installments and low, low monthly payments. In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, we often feel like we never have enough. But there’s another way. There’s freedom to be had in a more open-handed approach to our time, money, and possessions. In that freedom, we can discover what it means to be consumed with the One who designed us to be so much more than a cog in a consumer-driven economy. And that will change everything."

They've been planning this event for several months, and it couldn't be more timely-- It seems like every news story in the past couple of weeks has declared that the American economy is sliding into recession. Everywhere I look, I see indications of how unhealthy and toxic our consumeristic culture really is. Here are some things that have made me think deeply about this topic this week:

  • A quote about the definition of the word consume:
    "If you go back to [early dictionaries] of the English language, to consume meant to exhaust, to pillage, to lay waste, to destroy. In fact, even in our grandparents' generation, when somebody had tuberculosis, they called it 'consumption.' So up until this century, to be a consumer was not a good thing; it was considered a bad thing." --Jeremy Rifkin, American economist and founder of the Foundation on Economic Trends

    (I've always been vaguely uneasy with the "consumer" title. It makes me feel like a parasite. Now I know why.)

  • A blog discussion about the "prosperity gospel" that is being taught by some misguided churches.

  • A group of friends who are starting a charity and asking Americans to use their tax rebates to build wells in Africa to save thousands of lives.

  • An editorial column in the New York Times that suggests Go on a Savings Spree as a way to save the economy from recession:
    "Some research suggests that asset-holders behave more responsibly and are more civic-minded than those without wealth. After all, they have a stake in the future of the economy and their community... My own research suggests that having savings and investment equity is one of the best predictors of whether someone’s children will attend and graduate from college. Investing motivates people of all income levels to defer gratification and become knowledgeable about the economy and society."

  • An article in Newsweek explaining Why Americans Are Going Broke.
    "If consumers actually saved money and paid off their debt, could it hurt the U.S. economy?"
    "One reason we have all these problems is that we are supposed to. It drives our economy. If everyone had no debt and was into saving, then our economy—as it is designed today—would not be performing as well as it should, according to economists. But I think we have to ask: Would we as citizens be happier? I argue that we would."

  • A strange and thought-provoking article in Newsweek that documents a correlation between the prevalence of payday lenders (i.e. predatory lending) and the amount of political influence that conservative Christian groups have in certain areas. ("Things that make you go Hmmmm....")

Meanwhile, the government continues to tell us that the most patriotic thing we can do for our country is to spend money as fast as we can. It's our duty as Americans.

(For the record, I don't believe that the tax rebate checks will stop a recession. People aren't going to be spending them the way the government hopes-- I expect that the majority of average Americans will simply use the checks to help relieve some of the debt that they're already in. Even assuming that some folks actually spend the money on new purchases, most of those items will probably have been manufactured overseas, which isn't going to help the American economy. IMHO, If they really want to help the economy in the long term, they should be reducing the national debt and/or investing more in education so that we'll have a skilled work force for the future. But unfortunately, no one ever asks me!)

Everyone has a different spin on how the tax rebate checks can be put to best use. So the question is, what are YOU going to do with your tax refund check? Pay down some debt? Spend it? Invest it? Save people's lives? Comments are welcome!

1 comment:

Jennifer Jacquet said...

Underlying this discussion is the concept of economic growth. Is growth a reasonable thing to expect or to sustain? If so, at what rate? Perhaps we've become too committed to the idea of each generation always doing better than the next, particularly here in the U.S. Does growth inherently rely on consumption? Also, check out this NYTimes Op-Ed by Jared Diamond discussing the consumption factor of 32, which is how much more we in the developed world consume than those living in developing nations. Ugh and doule ugh raised to the fifth power...