Frugality: The Soviet Way
Mona Charen warns us of the folly of saving our money just because we have less of it. Thanks, Mona!
As agreeable as it was not to have to fight Christmas crowds, it was creepy and unsettling at the same time. It has been the same with getting restaurant reservations. Places that were once impossible to get into unless you reserved a week in advance are now available. They’re offering discounts on massages at the salon where I get my hair cut. Revenue from such luxuries as facials, waxes, and whatever else they do to pamper the ladies is down 25 percent.
This is not hardship; this is fear of hardship. Yes, there have been 1.9 million jobs lost since the start of the recession last year. And that’s not good. But that still leaves 93.3 percent of us employed. Close to 10 percent of homeowners have either missed a house payment or are in foreclosure, according to the Los Angeles Times. That’s bad obviously. But 90 percent of us are not in danger of losing our homes. And yet we are wary.
People fear hardship for many reasons, most of them good. Of all the Puritan ethics that we’ve unwisely kept over the centuries, we seem the furthest from the wisest – frugality. A good American has sex like it’s 1692, but you’re a shitheaded loser if you stop going to Red Lobster for a few weeks to keep your checkbook balanced. It seems barely worth it to comment on her figures (93.3 percent of a shrinking labor market is employed; the housing market is suffering not just from foreclosure but from the fact that many homes are just unsellable), because the assumption behind the assertion is so terrible – you aren’t poor, so stop acting like it. This, of course, works better if we also assume that economic hardship comes from some sort of celestial lottery where we do just enough to piss off God to be smote with collection notices, but not enough to be stricken with actual disease or suffering like non-Americans or gay people or minorities or women are.
The press cannot be asked to stop reporting the story. On the other hand, some large but unquantifiable element in our current mess is simple fear. I feel it myself. My husband and I have both kept our jobs. Our home is not in foreclosure. We’ve lost money in the stock market of course but we are otherwise pretty secure . . . I hope. And yet, I’ve been figuring out ways to economize. I’ve been cutting back on non-essential purchases.
To be fair, Mona Charen does have the job security that comes with being a conservative columnist – if she’s ever running short on cash, she can just whip up a book repeating hoary and disproven assertions from any time after Brown v. Board and some billionaire will buy 50,000 copies of it to sell directly to Half Price Books.
The economy is not as bad as our behavior indicates it should be. Under the circumstances, it makes sense to celebrate the good news that is out there, doesn’t it? Let’s start with gas prices. Who would have believed six months ago that we would be paying only $1.70 or so? That’s good for the economy and good because it denies revenue to Russia and Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
Yeah! Ignore the tightening credit markets and increased cost of everything else in the economy and the fact that the American producers of the cars which use this cheap gas are basically depending on the pennies in the couch to make it until the government drops off the welfare check. It’s cheaper to drive to the manicure you can’t afford, and that is fucking progress.
Let’s look at the rest of the laundry list of Good News:
Here’s something else to celebrate: We still live in an age of technical wizardry. My kids have long known how to chat, visually, with their friends on the computer. My generation (my brothers and I) has just gotten it going ourselves. Brother Jeff led the way. Using Skype, which is free on the Internet, we can now talk to one another cyberly face to face on our computer screens though we live hundreds of miles from one another. Yesterday, my brother Walter showed me the Sicilian salad he was preparing for lunch. He held the bowl up to the camera for my delectation. It looked like stag beetle larvae. Turns out it was oranges and red onions. So, okay, the cameras need a little work. But it was fun. And we save on long distance bills.
So, you can use your several hundred dollar computer and your $30 a month internet connection to talk with other people for free. Go back to the gas thing, that was much better.
But there’s more, of course, for us to be thankful for:
There is no magic wand to wave away the anxiety that stalks us. But counting our blessings surely cannot hurt.
Right, so let’s keep counting them!
Oh…you’re out? So after telling us repeatedly that things are great and we need to be less anxious about our nonexistent hardship, we get cheap gas and Skype as the signs that everything’s hunky dory? Seriously? You couldn’t even come up with, I don’t know, people buying up Wiis or IKEA having cheap things or the fact that Chuck E. Cheese now comes with free Ultimate Fighting?
Herein lies the problem with the economic Clap Harder Brigade: eventually, people have to stop clapping and start eating, and then they notice that it costs $2 for the same meal they used to get all the time. Then they notice that virtually everything else has gone up in price (except, of course, gas and Skype)…and then friends start letting them know that they’re unemployed…and then people start getting laid off at work. People are fearful about their economic state for damn good reason, and there’s no hope in grousing at people until they start spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need because they’re otherwise being terrible Americans.
Of course, any subsidized trips to Nordstrom that Mona Charen feels like giving out will be gladly accepted. I will not take my payment in Skype chats, though.