[Warning: Green Cheapskate rant just ahead.]
Gosh, I feel just awful about it. I didn't mean to destroy the U.S. economy and trigger a worldwide recession. In fact I feel so guilty about it, I feel like I should pick up the tab for the economic stimulus package. Well come to think of it, as a taxpayer, I guess I am.
I was just trying to lead a simpler life, spend a little less money, live lighter on the planet, and maybe not have to work so hard. But darn if those of us who subscribe to the simple living movement didn't end up causing this economic implosion. What's worse, we haven't even accepted the error of our ways. We're still living in the same reckless manner and -- to add insult to injury -- using the current economic climate as an opportunity to encourage others to join us. Have we no shame, because we're clearly the ones to blame?
As the months drag on and this economic slowdown continues, the blame game is definitely shifting away from those who appeared directly responsible for it at the onset, and now consumers -- especially reluctant consumers -- are being fingered as the true culprits in this whole mess. We need to spend and consume our way back to prosperity, so get with the program you cheapskates! And don't even get me started about you tree-huggers; all those silly environmental restrictions are a big part of this economic meltdown too!
Or so, it seems to me, goes the public debate these days about the current financial crisis and possible solutions. Having been caught in some of that crossfire in the media in recent weeks, I just wanted to say a few things for the record. First and foremost, I feel truly sorry for those who are genuinely hurting these days, particularly those who have lost a job or their home. Not only does my heart go out to them, but as a fellow citizen I'm fully prepared to open my checkbook (an act which normally requires the jaws-of-life) and support whatever public measures are necessary to help folks with their hardships.
Having said that, what I'm NOT willing to do is accept as gospel the idea that we can always spend and consume our way to never ending prosperity. I'm NOT willing to accept that living beyond our means, on borrowed money, is the way to fix the problem, since, IMO, that behavior created the problem in the first place. And most of all, I'm NOT willing to accept the proposal that we need to spend all of our time here on earth earning money to spend on things we don't need and, if we stop to think about it for a minute, probably don't even want, simply to keep the system going.
It's clear that there will always be some level of commerce; there will always be a demand for goods and services. The question is the size of that demand, the amount of that commerce. It's also clear that "prosperity" is a relative term; what's "rich" for one person, or one nation, is "poor" to another. I've been criticized for proposing radical lifestyle changes, like giving up cable TV if you can't afford it (heresy, I know). I have a hard time appreciating the pushback I get from some people on an issue like that, given that at the same time a third of the people in the world are literally starving to death and half the world's population lives on less that $2 a day.
While I'm not opposed to economic growth, I believe that the Earth has a carrying capacity, and I wonder a lot about how/whether economic growth will always be possible in light of those limitations. I believe what the World Wildlife Fund has said: that if everyone on the planet consumed stuff at the levels that we do here in the U.S., it would take three planet Earths to provide the resources necessary to sustain that level of consumption. I also wonder sometimes what a world without economic growth, or, maybe more accurately, a world with a sustainable economy, would be like. I wonder if it might be better in some ways, not to mention last longer, even though I'm sure it would be different.
As a proud green cheapskate, I'm heartened to hear all of the talk in the media these days about "economizing." But almost inevitably, that discussion boils down to "How to get more, but pay less." I wish there was more discussion of the idea that "less is often more." I think we should be worrying less these days about "How can we afford it?" and instead be asking ourselves "Do we really need it?" and "If we don't buy it, how will our lives be affected; will it be a net positive or a net negative?"
Gandhi said "Live simply so that others may simply live." Maybe that will be the lesson we'll take forward from these challenging times we're living through, or at least I hope so.
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