There are two very interesting diaries on the rec list discussing the economic implications of the consumerist orgy that we're all ritually expected to participate in every December. One is by teacherken describing his moral conflict over the need to abandon consumerism and the economic costs such a stance would produce, which initiated Granny Doc's response which basically says "don't give into consumerism, if retailers collapse so be it." Both descriptions of the diaries are oversimplified and I'll try to deal with their complexity below.
But the reason I'm writing this diary is to point out why Granny Doc's approach is totally the wrong approach to the issue. It's not a matter of individual consumer behavior, but of collective policy choices. Political action, not individual choice, MUST be the answer. teacherken got at this, but it needs to be stated much more clearly.
As I reread teacherken's diary it seems very clear to me that Granny Doc has given his work a very superficial reading at best. That aside, Granny Doc's prescribed advice is best described as neo-Hooverism - or, "let them all lose their jobs and let God sort it out."
There will be a terrible shake out. People will lose their jobs, businesses will fail, and the Asian export market might suffer a blow out in as much as we are the major outlet for the stuff they produce.
But could the result be a more carefully structured economic system? A system of making things, of hiring people with skills, of paying for good products carefully made, and total rethinking of growth, with all of its unintended consequences?
If we are really serious about saving the planet, and changing our foot print on the globe, could we consider beginning with a major reduction in spending this Christmas? Not because we must, but because we should.
Some times a cure can only be found in radical surgery...
The more precise term for this is "creative destruction" - that in a severe recession the economic destruction that occurs opens the way for greater creativity and entrepreneurship. It's a right-wing fantasy of course, since the destruction is borne by far more people than can ever engage in the creative entrepreneurship.
Granny Doc's proposal is essentially the same as Herbert Hoover's. Hoover felt that the unfolding Great Depression was a necessary shaking out of a bad and flawed 1920s economic system, that by government standing back and letting the markets do its thing the nation would emerge stronger on the other side.
The problem of course was that the "shaking out" was causing widespread suffering. Hoover's treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, famously advised the nation's leading businessmen to "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers" as a response to the unfolding crisis.
Granny Doc must have an excellent amount of economic security to so easily and casually suggest that massive job losses are an acceptable price to pay to build a better and more sustainable economy. Her argument, that the market will recover naturally, is fundamentally right-wing and it offers nothing to the mass of Americans who are losing or who will lose their jobs.
That's not to say that we should shop to keep the economy afloat. And that's not what teacherken said:
So here's one possible solution to the moral conflict with which I began. Act as an individual in as moral a fashion as you can. Urge by your actions as well as your words that our government begin to take the lead to reshape our economy in ways that are less destructive - of environment, health, local economies, and human dignity. Recognize that we are facing economic dislocation and restructuring, and insist that ALL participate in the costs that will incur so that NO ONE suffers unfairly.
My only criticism of teacherken's diary is that this point wasn't given greater emphasis.
This isn't about individual moral choices. It's about collective choices, about collective goals. teacherken has precisely the right idea here when he says government must be at the center of this. It's only government, government alone, that can produce the kind of change we need.
Sure, individual choices can help. But those choices do not happen in a vaccuum. Government needs to provide a much stronger safety net, needs to provide universal health care and housing and money to live on when millions are fired from their jobs by the profit-greedy. Government needs to provide job retraining and education funding and promote green, sustainable jobs. Government needs to rewrite the rules of the game in food policy, retail policy, labor union policy, trade policy, to produce the more prosperous and sustainable economy we so desperately need.
So the primary thing you must do this holiday season is get politically active. We have a golden opportunity in 2009 to produce a better economic future for ourselves and for our country, but it's not going to happen unless we organize to make it happen. Reject Granny Doc's neo-Hooverism - instead embrace the spirit of the New Deal. A spirit that understood we're all in this together, that without a robust governmental response we're all doomed.
Finally, I would just like to say that if you do decide to spend for the holidays, SPEND THAT MONEY AT LOCALLY OWNED BUSINESSES - there's no good reason for you to shop at a chain store. I've been spending 2008 trying to wean myself off of Target and some of the other big chains. It's not difficult since their products have become unimaginably crappy, and the money that you spend at a locally owned store puts more money back into the local economy.