The fact that everything is more expensive is forcing people to forgo their lattes. How will we identify our sneering elite? (Well, besides the sneers.)
Whenever there’s a sharp rise in living costs like this, you can bet there will be a flood of rich little poor kids harangues to follow (example here). There’s an element of economic understanding that declares a hierarchy of goods – food and shelter before all else, with the odd preference on declaring that you have suitably crappy food and shelter (and no other luxuries) if you declare yourself “poor”. When rising prices hit the middle class, one of the surest ways to staunch the bleeding is to cut out luxuries, but often without the realization that a luxury for thee is not necessarily a luxury for me. One of the most popular cost-cutting measures I see referenced is to cut out cable and internet in order to save money. However if you’re poor (and have your real live color TV or one of them fancy computing boxes!), cable and internet – if you even have internet – are one of few ways you have to access entertainment and information. One of the reasons that someone with means can cut internet, say, to save money is because they have the mode of transportation available to get them somewhere with free wi-fi (and the requisite equipment to use it), or a job that allows them the freedom to access the internet during work hours.
There’s also what the author of the piece calls the “latte effect”, which uses some seriously deceptive figures:
A $1.50 bottle of soda for each weekday of the year, for example, would add up to about $390. Now at $2 in some parts of the country, the habit comes with an annual price tag of $520. Over five years, that’s $2,600.
For New York City resident Natasha Patel, the penny pinching means no more cab rides home on weekends. Instead, she relies on her monthly subway pass, saving about $20 in taxi fares a week ($1,040 over a year, $10,400 over a decade).
Yes, if you cut out certain daily things, you will save an aggregate load of money at some point in the future. But where people tend to get in trouble isn’t in the little luxuries, such as they are, but the big bills that simply pile up. We build housing that’s almost entirely unsuitable to living on a marginal income both by size and energy use, construct metro areas that are virtually impossible to navigate in any affordable fashion, place necessary retail in areas only reachable by car.
The media in particular tends to discuss economic hardship only when it actually affects people who can’t spend quite as freely as they once did. But for those of us who are already on a cheap phone plan, who’ve cut down our driving, who are aggressively tackling our debt rather than buy unnecessary frivolities, we don’t have lattes to cut out, and it’s not a particularly big shocker that unnecessarily expensive shit is, in fact, unnecessarily expensive.