I’m sure that many of you have noticed a recent slowdown in my posts over the past two weeks. I’ve been busy with other writing projects, attempting to keep my fledgling writing process going, for Boy @ The Window and writings related to it. I’ve also been catching up on my TV entertainment. Thank goodness for the power of Netflix. I’ve been catching up on Ugly Betty of late, finding it a stomach-churning show to watch in the process. I guess naivete does have its advantages.
Something else caught my eye while watching America Ferrara’s character go through life like Edith Bunker from All In The Family, only as a working woman in the fashion industry. It was an episode I’d seen a few times. One in which workers fought over $4,500 Gucci bags and $1,500 shoes. It made me think. Who, really, has the cash or credit on hand to buy such things? Even if I took my debt down to zero, I maybe, just maybe, could buy the shoes outright. The Gucci bag, I’d have to buy through a layaway plan.
It allowed me to realize why the impending recovery, if it goes as planned, will hardly lift most boats, forget about all of them. We as a society have allowed ourselves to become wannabes. We might not all want a $4,500 Gucci bag. For some of us, it’s a $750,000 home, or a $120,000 Mercedes, or a $3,000 refrigerator. We want these things, but the vast majority of us have hardly the money necessary to buy them outright. So this recovery, like everything else in our nation, is borrowing-based. We may be out of a recession by the spring of ’10, but we won’t be out of the woods.
You see, we’ve made the decision as a culture that the American Dream is really about being rich. Period. It’s not about just having a home or paying off the mortgage or having enough left over to send our kids to college. It’s about the here and now. It’s about buying the next iPhone or the next new, hip product before anyone else can get their greedy paws on it. It’s all about ourselves and our immediate material needs.
So even though it’s really only the folks in the top three percent of income (roughly over $500,000 a year) who could possibly afford all the stuff that can be bought in our world, many of the rest us attempt to live that way as well. The next 80 percent of us aspire to live like we’re neurosurgeons and professional athletes, corporate lawyers and investment bankers. Perhaps that’s why so many of us were so upset when the stock market collapsed and the banks started failing last fall. Maybe that’s why we became enraged when the federal government bailed out so many of them. We saw this not as a stop-gap measure to prevent a twenty-first-century global depression. Instead, we saw these changes as preventing us from pretending that we all can be rich.
We, of course, pretend through debt. We’ve been borrowing our way into the middle class since the ’70s, and increasingly so in the past fifteen years. It’s no accident that even those of us making more than $100,000 a year have as much as six times that amount hanging over us as debt. Our natural instinct has become one of selfishness and narcissism. We don’t see the point of taxes, of having a social safety net, of helping others outside of prayer and giving through a religious institution. We see government as the enemy because, quite frankly, it has positioned itself to be the enemy. We assume that everyone else is doing well or better than us because we all want the brass ring.
What’s worse is that we not only don’t want to help others and denigrate the poorest twenty percent in our country by blaming them for our own ills and mistakes. We don’t even want to help ourselves. So many are opposed to education reform, to longer school days and universal postsecondary education that it would make you think that no one in this country wants an education that prepares them for the future. We want to eradicate climate change while we find all remaining sources of oil. We prefer universal health insurance to universal healthcare. Our priorities are so screwed up that we still think college is only for nerds, and that an online four-year degree is the equivalent to a face-to-face experience for the working adult learner.
It’s a sad situation. Because if or when the bottom does fall out of our economy, it will make the past two years look like a speed bump by comparison. So many of us don’t have the skill sets, degrees, or intrinsic tools we need — like the ability to think independently of an ideology, our media, or other people in leadership position — to weather a storm of those proportions. Heck, even those of us with the necessary sets of skills, education and experiences might well go under. As someone who is also guilty of being in the wannabe set, I remain positive about my future and my families future. But I also know it can no longer be based on my borrowing power, but rather, my saving power.