Friday, November 4, 2011

Strengthening America by Changing from a Consumer Economy to a Nation-Building Economy


While our culture of consumerism has been a boon to corporate America, it has been bad for our citizens, bad for our economy and bad for our nation. 

Psychologically, mass marketing images have led to a nation of individuals who are constantly dissatisfied with their lives ... whether it’s how they look, the job they have, the amount of money they make, the home they live in, etc.  There is not a single aspect of our lives that escapes this need of ours … not to be better individuals in some meaningful way but to project success or power/popularity, mostly through the acquisition of material things.  And we always want more; it’s never enough.

You won’t find evidence of this in polls because our culture places a premium on having fun, being happy.  Since people feel that they’re supposed to be having fun and be happy, that that state is valued by our culture, people put on that fa├žade … not knowingly but in an act of self-deception. 

While I know of no studies that document what I am about to posit, I believe that the huge increase in the extent of depression in this country stems not from more awareness of the problem as has often been thought but results from this constant dissatisfaction that people feel about themselves.  Indeed, it is not uncommon when people are feeling down to get a “fix” by going out and buying something.

Our economy has also become addicted to consumerism.  70% of our GDP is derived from consumer spending. But consumerism is a very unproductive use of the nation’s wealth.   It does not move our country forward.   And since much of what we consume is no longer produced here but overseas, it doesn’t even help employment like it used to, just the revenues of American global corporations.

Meanwhile, the United States is falling behind other countries and entering a dangerous period because we cannot afford to do what needs to be done to keep this country strong … and I don’t mean military spending.   I mean spending on infrastructure … both maintenance and new.  I mean spending on education.  I mean spending on cutting edge research and development, investment in new industries that will drive our economy in the future. When measurement is taken of national and individual wellbeing, the United States typically finds itself towards the back of the pack of developed countries.  Not in front as we like to believe.

In order to find the money to invest in our country’s wellbeing, we must switch our economy from one that is primarily based on consumerism, to one that is based primarily on building our country.  This involves changing the components of our GDP but not lessening it or our growth.  Actually, because it mostly would involve projects that must by their very nature be accomplished in the geographic United States, it means a greater bang for the buck when it comes to job creation.

To get from the consumer economy to the nation-building economy, we will need to wean ourselves from the need to constantly buy things to be happy.  And instead of using discretionary income for self-gratification, we will need to learn to be comfortable with that money going to the government in the form of taxes to be used for projects that will benefit the nation, and thus ultimately ourselves.

Many will howl at this suggestion, but we must remember that the United States has by far the lowest tax rate of any developed country.  Yet, and this bears repeating, the people of these other countries nevertheless prosper and have a higher level of wellbeing … whether it’s their health, education, or other measures … than we do.

Making such a change in our culture will take principled leadership and preferably a united political front.  This must be approached like a war used to be … all hands on deck and united.  And everyone must be prepared to sacrifice. At this point in our history, that concept … a united political front … seems impossible to imagine.  And yet we must strive toward that end if America is once again to regain its global strength and provide its citizens with a secure and high standard of living.