Sunday, April 30, 2006
What follows is based loosely on reading, watching TV, observing folks in malls and stores, on the highway, at sports events, at church, etc.
There was a time (here goes that "back in my day" story) when things had an intrinsic value and were carefully treated, watched over, replaced only when necessary, stored away when not in use, kept out of the weather, etc. (I use etc. a lot - saves space).
What do we see about us today in our everyday passage through life? First and most obvious are our automobiles and the way we use them. For example many people with garages do not put their cars, whether new or a few years old, into those garages at night. Sometimes because the garage has become a repository for the excess of things which have been accumulated or, more likely, because of inertia or outright laziness.
When we drive we make jackrabbit starts, then race furiously to the next redlight, burning a lot more gas than necessary. We speed on the highways, often driving 10 mph or more over the limit, just to reach our destination only minutes ahead of a more conservative driver. We know we would save gas and be safer if we drove a little slower and we know our car would last longer if we treated it better but we just don't care. And since we can afford it why not? Even the occasional speeding ticket, as expensive as it may be, is no deterrent because, what the heck, we can afford it. We do dislike getting those points but it is not likely that we can accumulate them fast enough to affect our license. There are not enough cops and they are spread too thin. We even know that speed governors on our cars would go a long way towards solving the gas crisis but, what the heck, we can afford it and besides it is probably somewhere in the Bill of Rights that we have the right to drive speedily.
Car repairs? Sure are getting up there, aren't they? I sat next to a young woman in a car dealer's waiting room when the service tech came out to give her the repair estimate. For what sounded to me like a large amount for the minimal work mentioned sounded like a logical number to her (turns out daddy was paying). She had no concern for what it cost.
And the cars themselves? Once thought of as a means of transportation only, they are now primarily status symbols, indications of machissimo, outdoor living (how many four-wheel drive cars ever leave pavement?). What they cost is of small concern, at least in the urban/suburban areas where most of us live. In those areas you see very few old cars. You have to go to farm country, coal country, or other semi-depressed areas to find out where all those old cars go.
If you can't really afford a Lexus why, what the hey, just lease one. The payoff time will be way down the road somewhere and your friends and neighbors will say to themselves "Looks like he got that raise". Leasing, of course, is the most expensive way to possess a car but really no one cares. Image is all.
And kids? Allowances are way over the top as kids never seem to lack for anything they want. At my home there are presently three basketballs sitting on a backyard swing. All of these plus one I gave away just floated down the drainage ditch during a rain and I see one more on its way. No one ever shows up to ask if I had seen a ball because really no one cares. Mom or dad will just pay for a new one.
In the malls folks oftentimes seem almost in a frenzy to get to that cash register and hand over wads of dough for items that the just "want" but have no need for. As I write this we are in a gasoline crisis with ever rising prices. People do complain but mostly about the "profiteering oil companies" and station owners. Only a bare few even think to drive less, more conservatively, or to take less trips. They dislike the high prices but pay them anyway. Plenty of money where that came from.
Retail prices continue to soar but so does retail business. Just mosey through Saks or any of the high-end stores. Sales there have never been better. Even in lesser stores like Penney's or Sears prices climb but it really slows down very few buyers. Grills, riding mowers, gas-powered trimmers would be items you would think one could go without but not so. Selling like hot cakes which brings us to another item.
Eating out. My wife and I are pretty conservative restaurant folks but when we do eat out at a non-fast-food place we seldom get out of there (tip included) for much under $50. And we don't drink. At tables next to us are large families whose older members are frequently downing mixed drinks for which $5 is not an uncommon price. They smile and laugh while they do this and show little sign of being in financial distress. And they do this often.
Clothing the body is another area where folks seem to indulge themselves too much. Even poorer kids may be wearing $100 sneakers. Even though I personally could afford them I would never consider throwing around that kind of change. And we all know how much women's clothes cost, primarily because of the fashion factor. Their shoes, blouses, skirts, etc., are priced way beyond any intrinsic value but buy they do. Too much money.
Theatre tickets are through the roof and the prices kids will pay for popular entertainers defy belief. Yet seats frequently sell out way in advance. A few whines to mom or dad usually brings out the ticket money.
Well, all of this is not by way of indicting everybody. Some follow careful budgets and even some who don't have to are conservative with their spending. You know who you are. And to stop this spending spree cold-turkey would have disastrous effects on our retail sales as well as on our remaining factories and those we support overseas.
I am just trying to point out that among my friends and acquaintenances, many of whom are in my church, most seem to have much more money than they really need. (Of course many of my relatives would disagree with me!) We are always hearing of those who come back from cruises or other opulent vacations. I go to a small conservative church but the parking lot is full of shiny new SUVs, Cadillacs, Corvettes, Altimas, etc. Most who work have good paying jobs and the money just seems to roll in.
Too much money! How else explain the world we live in and the way we live. And I completly left out the subject of homes and furnishings. A million-dollar home is no longer a rarity as we see dozens of them in the papers every week.
I hope that the many who are really struggling to keep body and soul together and to get just the basics will forgive me for the above diatribe. I know you are out there and I commend you for your efforts. I don't actually know many of you which is why I say that my acquaintenances have way too much money.
Woops, I also left out home entertainment and other forms of electronics.