• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Title

Cheap, cheap

There are, I'm sure we can all agree, at least enough stories in the general media about how the economy's doing. It's an easy story for today's journalists to put together (statistics are published regularly, wide-ranging opinions are readily forthcoming, you don't have to draw a conclusion or do any meaningful analysis because your tag line is sure to be "only the future will tell").

September 11, 2009
 
 

There are, I'm sure we can all agree, at least enough stories in the general media about how the economy's doing. It's an easy story for today's journalists to put together (statistics are published regularly, wide-ranging opinions are readily forthcoming, you don't have to draw a conclusion or do any meaningful analysis because your tag line is sure to be "only the future will tell").

Of late, a leading contender in the "no real analysis" category is the generic story about how consumers are starting to shop again. Not that they're going wild with their credit cards, but those credit cards are starting to come out in public once more. The message (strongly implied, even when not fully explicit) is that the economy will only be truly strong when consumers are again racking up debt. Talk about an unsustainable system!

Two recent books have helped shaped my thinking on economic sustainability: Cheap; the High Cost of Discount Culture, and In CHEAP We Trust.

Neither one offers an alternative economic model, but each offers new perspectives on cost, and value, and thrift. Each reminds us that our parents didn't live in the current economic reality and our kids won't (shouldn't?) have to either.

After all, since we live in an ostensibly democratic consumer culture which places a high value on individual choices and decisions, but what's good for the individual is actually bad for the economy as a whole (what economists call "the paradox of thrift"), so something's got to change.

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