If you go to frugality blogs, you’ll occasionally see comments from trolls telling the frugal blogger “thanks for wrecking the US economy, buddy”. This was easy to ignore and be skeptical about as late as three months ago, when the live-within-your-means crowd were very much the outliers. What, a bunch of guys who tore up their credit cards were going to wreck consumer spending?
It’s a whole ‘nother story if millions of people, voluntarily or not, tear up their credit cards all at once. In those conditions, there is, to say the least, something to the idea of the paradox of thrift – the notion that what is good for one person (living within your means, cutting down frivolous expenses, saving) can be bad at the collective level.
But it seems to me that there’s more going on than Americans and to a lesser extent (so far) Europeans deciding to be all virtuous about their personal finances out of fear over their own future. The consumer hasn’t just capitulated like that Krugman article I linked to says in its title. I think the consumer has also decided that he or she has had enough. As the blog Of Two Minds says, one of “the structural realities which have yet to play out” is that
7. The U.S. already has too much of everything: too many hotels, malls, office towers, homes, condos, strip-malls, lamps, furniture, CDs, TVs, clothing, etc. As 50 million storage lockers filled to capacity with consumer crap are emptied in a desperate move to reduce expenses and raise cash, the value of literally everything ever manufactured will fall to near-zero.(via Financial Armageddon)
And I think he’s right. The change that is in the air isn’t just economical although that aspect of it may well turn out to be so god-awful that it’s going to block out all other aspects over the next few years. It’s cultural. Over the past few years there’s been a boom in online resources relating to frugality, decluttering and related lifestyle changes; a small house movement has sprung up, and local food has become a fad. As I’ve said before, those issues are related; they reflect a desire to simplify and a realization that enough is enough, that we don’t need to have that much stuff in our lives. Or, alternatively, they reflect a new calvinism for a new era of sobriety, envy and conformity. Take your pick. I’m more inclined to the former but I might end up loathing the tendency a few years down the line.
In any case, I think we just might be seeing consumerism dying in the next couple of years.