The American economy prides itself in being consumer based. It is driven by the 'Buy now, pay later,' and, 'You just might need this someday' mentalities. We're obsessed with showing off our fancy toys, even if that means weaving an intricate lie of pretended wealth (often built on a foundation of irresponsible debt). We're more content to replace a broken appliance then to attempt to have it fixed. We eat out more often because it is easier than making a meal at home, even if doing so costs many times the price of a home meal.
But the problem is bigger than just gluttonistic tendencies - our country not only encourages fiscal irresponsibility, it requires it for economic stability. After September 11th how did our government encourage us to show our patriotism? We were encouraged to go out and buy things! Spend, spend, spend - that's a good American. Support the economy!
I believe that as Americans become more frugal, quality of life will increase across all income levels. Americans can be happier with less - less stuff, smaller houses, smaller cars - and with greater expectations for those possessions.
But here's where the economists start freaking out. Daily, it seems, I read reports that "Consumer spending is down, alert! We're entering a financial crisis!" The American auto makers are breaking apart because (gasp!) people aren't buying new cars as much! (News flash people - in very few cases buying a new car is a financially good idea. It is almost always a better idea to buy a car a couple years old!) This desperation is exactly what is wrong with the economy - if the American people become more fiscally responsible then our economy collapses.
Our country is built on a sandy foundation - we require irresponsibility to prosper. It is this necessity for irresponsibility that is the cause of the widening gap between rich and poor. More and more the rich do not become rich by hard work, (there are, of course, exceptions) but instead by "working the system," i.e. benefiting from the mass financial irresponsibility of the populace.Does capitalism require the irresponsibility of the masses to function? Is frugality capitalism's downfall?
Am I the only person puzzled by this?