I've been troubled for some time by all the media focus on how the economy ostensibly is recovering. Consumer activity, real estate prices, durable goods. Everything but jobs and, as we all know, employment is a lagging indicator.
What troubles me is the tacit assumption that "recovery" is the proper word. That getting things back the way they were will put the world right. Like the economy, before it crashed, wasn't seriously flawed. That Bernie Madoff and a few other bad apples caused the whole problem.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but any economy based (as ours was, and seems likely to be again) on the premise that consumers who haven't had a real wage increase in decades are going to buy ever more stuff they don't need is inherently unsustainable. The miracle (if that term applies) is that it can work even in the short term. Long-term, it doesn't have a snowball's chance.
So it was with severely mixed feelings that I listened, this morning, to a "news" story on the upcoming Disney movie, "The Princess and the Frog." The good news is that The Walt Disney Company, whose relationship with African-Americans has historically been ambivalent at best, has finally created a Black Disney Princess. (Whether the world needs Princesses in general, whether it needs Disney Princesses in particular, if you're going to have them at all then you ought to have one for everybody.) But what really got my attention was the bit about the market exuberance (particularly on the part of Black mothers of daughters) around the opportunity to spend money on dolls, costumes, and other marketing tie-ins before the film is even in limited release.
Now, I'll be the first to point out that any long-term-sustainable economy must incorporate a level of social justice (if for no other reason than so that the peasants don't eventually burn down the castle, or the Morlocks decide to feast on the Eloi all at once). But what I heard wasn't so much about social justice as (it seemed) about expanding the pool of overburdened consumers and the variety of nonessential goods which -- by their very existence -- will create their own demand.
If a process isn't sustainable by its very nature, scaling that same process up by a factor of x percent isn't going to change anything important. At most, it's likely to cause the thing to crash and burn that much sooner.
Never trust an economy which lists the following instructions on the back of the bottle: Watch media. Buy stuff. Borrow money. Repeat.