Monday, August 20, 2007

Affluenza and class warfare are getting me down

Barbara Ehrenreich nails contemporary economics in her latest blog entry at Huffington Post. Barbara is a writer who does not turn her back on the working poor. Neither does Callahan at his Cleveland Diary. He's been posting a list of foreclosures in and around Cleveland, tallying them by bank. There are hundreds each week. Now we know who the big bad greedy banks are (Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank top the list), we would all do well to avoid them.

But how? Can we blame the working class people for wanting to have everything on display at HGTV? Isn't it the American way to grow up and buy a four bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, with open kitchen featuring marble counters and tiles, the latest burnished stainless steel appliances with cozy breakfast nook and formal dining room, plus the obligatory "great hall" and triple garage?

I chanced upon HGTV a week or so ago and I've become at once hooked, appalled, horrified! There's one series that shows us what a certain amount of money can buy in various locations around the US. They never show anything under $150K, and often go up to 2 million and more. I wonder what people do for a living to make enough money to live in a 2 million dollar home.

Another show takes a potential home buyer out to see three houses, and then they make a bid on one of them. In this program you really get to see what is on the mind of the typical American consumer. It could be a fixation on black leather couches or a fear of too little space. And then I contemplate the sort of person who has such fixed ideas about what elements go into the perfect kitchen or "master" bedroom. I watched one couple immediately size up the lack of closet space and turn their noses way up as they headed out the door.

Another show teaches you how to spend a couple grand to redecorate their homes that are already on the market. Their sale price can go up up up!

Somebody once said that eventually, the only jobs left in the US revolve around selling each other houses. The furnishings will be provided by China, who will end up owning everybody's line of credit.

PBS once did a documentary called "Affluenza." Affluenza is the disease of mindless consumerism, the old keeping-up-with-the-Jones syndrome. If you haven't seen it, it is worth checking out.

It is not just the poor who are loaded with debt these days. The middle class are deep in it as well. We are bombarded constantly with ads for loans, alternating with ads for all the stuff that we simply must have to be in style. Can I possibly live in a house with dated kitchen cabinets? Who cares if it means cutting down more tropical rain forests to make those cupboards and drawers?

Meanwhile, people who long for a home of their own and who sweat and slave doing the jobs nobody else wants can't make their loan payments and that's the nasty dark underside to shows like Flip This House. Buy cheap and sell high, and sell out the workers while you are at it. Meanwhile, millions of people elsewhere will consider themselves lucky they have a plastic roof over their tiny shack with no utilities and no running water.


terra said...

This is so timely! The other day, I was sitting in the lunchroom listening to a college student talk about the 4 Coach purses she bought this year. Prices ranged from $150-$425. Her friend went to Chinatown, climbed through a hole, and bought a knock-off for $20. The student was appalled. I said "At least she has a story. You just went to the mall." I wanted to vomit.

So many people are victims of this latest home mortgage sub-prime lending scheme that is now falling apart and impacting world markets. I was approved for a $50,000 car loan! I don't make $50,000 and no one has any business giving me a $50,000 loan. That's crazy. I'm sure some people go for it.

We are living in a society of created needs. 'I need an iPod. I need a new car. I need my water in a bottle.' We should all try to want less, need less.

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