As the U.S. economy continues its downward spiral, the media’s role in promoting growth and consumption become blatantly obvious. Newscaster after newscaster and analyst remind us that roots of our downturn are weak consumer spending brought on in large part by the subprime mortgage fiasco. Some in government propose tax cuts to prop up spending. The central theme in the discussion is that if consumer spending can be sparked once again, all will be well.
Not-too-subtly, we (the spending public) are enjoined to perform our “duty” as good citizens of the economy — to consume more. We’re told that we can pull a nation out of the crisis and restore economic prosperity by simply prying open our wallets.
It’s no surprise that citizens of this country are no longer referred to as such, but as “consumers,” a term that emphasizes our vital role in a consumer culture led by corporations and advertising firms paid to do their bidding
Over the years, we’ve become a nation of consumers addicted to growth. We uncritically subscribe to the notion that “growth is good, indeed essential.” Growth is predicated on the consumption of goods and services, some essential, many not, by good citizens like you and me.
Now spending is seen as the salve for this wounded economy. No matter that our continued acts of consumption could very likely lessen the chances of our long-term survival on the planet. What is even more distressing is that we’re raising our children on the same logic.
In recent days, we’ve learned that citizens are saving more. Some economists view that as bad for the economy, even though saving rates in the United States have previously plummeted into the negative range (we’re spending more than we make).
As we reshape our economy, not only must we restore jobs, but we must restore sanity: careful buying, judicious saving and living within our means. My hope is that we can create an economy that also focuses on sustainable activities, like renewable energy and long hikes in the wilderness, not big screen TVs and monster SUVs.
My fear is that to create a recovery, we’ll embrace any idea that puts people back to work, regardless of its impact on the environment, our long-term economic health and environmental sustainability.
Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website or finding him on Google+.