You Aren’t Losing Your Job, You are Holding Back Consumer Spending!

Sharon June 27th, 2009

I’ve run across a spate of articles recently that all seem pretty much to blame those inconvenient poor or fiscally worried people for the economy’s failure to pop right back on track.  Consider this Bloomberg article, which Ilargi at The Automatic Earth notes erases a rise in new job losses by claiming that they are “stagnating” – but, of course, when job losses go up, they don’t stagnate, they get worse. Thus, human suffering is neatly erased in the larger story of the wanna-be recovery.   What we really need, of course, is to get people spending again – Wahoo!

“We’re in the prelude to the end of the recession,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh, who accurately forecast the drop in GDP. “The stimulus will build steam, but it’ll be a pretty tepid recovery.” The loss of jobs “is one factor holding back consumer spending.”

Glad to know that the job losses are mostly about slowing down consumer spending, rather than personal suffering and hardship.

Earlier this week, MSN ran an article about new research on whether people are more satisfied when they buy an ugly couch or go to a crappy concert.  The headline?  Maybe stuff really does make us happy! (I can’t find this article to link to).  While this had absolutely nothing to do with the conclusions of the study, which were that when we’re unhappy with a purchase, we’re less unhappy when we buy a material object we don’t like than when we spend on an experience we don’t like, the message of the headline was “buy more!”  The first paragraph suggested that the study cast real doubt on the old “you can’t buy happiness” saw – implying, of course, that you can, and we should.

Or there’s this one, from CNBC, my favorite source of unintentionally comic news: “Higher Savings Rate is Great, But What About the Economy?” – the story never actually says anything about why savings might be good – only about why it might be destructive to the economy, forcing “more stimulus.”  Well, that can’t be good – gotta get out and buy myself a GM vehicle, a fainting couch and a really expensive purse. 

The message for those who have lost their jobs is this – well, maybe it isn’t your fault, but of course, we’d be better now if it weren’t for you, oh, and since things are “stagnating” (even though they aren’t), job losses are declining (well, only in the preliminary numbers, never in the more accurate adjusted ones, where, well, they aren’t) and we’re experiencing “green shoots” you should realize that we’re done worrying about you.  We’ve decided things are over – we felt bad for a whole six months and decided we didn’t like it, so we felt that if we all just pretended things were better, that would help – and so please don’t expect us to give you any attention, except to exhort you to get off your ass and spend more.  Stop holding us back, stop expecting our attention – you are so over.

There are plenty more of these stories out there, and they conspire to create a consistent media message – “you are holding us back.”  That is, you folks who lost your jobs, stopped spending, started saving, started doing with less, making things last, making change – you are bad, you are the problem – the problem is not with declining revenues, cutbacks in services, criminal behavior by banks, the stupidity of government…it isn’t any of those things, it is you. 

Well, just so that someone says it – it isn’t you.  We haven’t recovered.  We aren’t in recovery.  And it isn’t you.


29 Responses to “You Aren’t Losing Your Job, You are Holding Back Consumer Spending!”

  1. Rebeccaon 27 Jun 2009 at 7:02 am

    Well, I’m still spending. I bought six boxes of whole-grain pasta the other day when they were on sale. ;)

    Seriously, we are one of the least-hit areas of the country and our official unemployment rate is now up to 9% and climbing. The real rate is, of course, higher. It’s significantly worse in other areas. Green shoots. Right.

    I finally got a job. A permanent part-time position at the place I’ve been working PRN for a while now. Now I’ll be working more, at least. That will help.

  2. AnnaMarieon 27 Jun 2009 at 7:25 am

    I’ve pretty much stopped spending money on mass produced crap and I was a champion at this in years past. I do spend a bit of money but it’s with Artisans like me who create goods here in the U.S. and have small home businesses. Etsy is my game now and I’ve just ordered a fabulous new purse, not expensive but well priced and hand made by an artist from the U.S. of A.

    Oh I forgot! I also spend at garage sales which probably doesn’t do diddly for the economy but does get me some new enamelware for my kitchen. Plus I grow my own garden and barter for some food.

    Boy I’m sure an Economy slacker Ain’t I *g*

  3. John Andersenon 27 Jun 2009 at 7:47 am

    This is a perfect example of when American “rugged individualism” goes too far–such that it prevents understanding of the underlying causes of the problem.

    Also, for all of the “thinking outside of the box” corporate talk of the past two decades, I see very little of that happening among the corporate teamplayers who supposedly mastered it.

    If these teamplayers want to think outside the box, maybe, just maybe they should consider the notion of a non-growth based, sustainable economy.

  4. Michelleon 27 Jun 2009 at 8:01 am

    I am beginning to believe that the general public is wising up to this load of cr*p that is being served to us multiple times a day. I got off the spending train a few years ago and I cannot seem to get myself to feel bad about supporting a system that is clearly unsustainable in the long run.

    My husband lost his job and I went back full time. We have four kids, so now he is home with them. Thanks to you, I can put it in perspective. I am keeping us in the formal economy for as long as I can while continuing to prepare for the day when the informal economy rules even more than it currently does.

  5. Michelleon 27 Jun 2009 at 8:02 am

    Oops – I meant I cannot get myself to feel bad about NOT supporting a system that is clearly unsustainable.

  6. ctdaffodilon 27 Jun 2009 at 9:07 am

    Well – I’m glad that they finally found where the blame comes from for this financial mess.

    Who would have thought – its the little guy of course. It makes perfect sense now.

    Yeah – by not shopping or shopping smarter and less and trying to live more simply we’ve done it – we have derailed the financial recovery of a nation! Waa haa haa!What a bunch of bozos….

  7. ctdaffodilon 27 Jun 2009 at 9:10 am

    I’m singing the Stuff-Mart song from Veggie Tales video (tag sale) Madam Blueberry….its about being thankful for what you have – and that more stuff doesn’t always bring happiness….

  8. Jennon 27 Jun 2009 at 9:43 am

    Articles like that make my skin crawl. Then I go on ranting benders that my poor boyfriend has to listen to. It’s loads of fun around here. *smile*

    Like Anna Marie, I’ve been an economy slacker for a good long time now. My shopping has consisted of food and items from thrift stores, although what I’ve been buying and where I’ve been buying it have shifted a bit in the last year or so to even better reflect my values.

    What we really need now are realistic, approachable ways to think about how we can create a new economy, not rescue the old. By continually suggesting that it’ll just be a short while until things are on track, and that it’s the little non- or low-spenders who are the problem, and not thinking about new ways to live, we’re just getting sucked into the trap again, and it’s one that has far greater implications than just the economy. Sadly, a lot of the stuff that gets printed about these issues just doesn’t do them justice, and doesn’t further alternatives at all. It just reaffirms that we should work to reestablish what we already had even when that isn’t likely, or even desirable.

  9. Joannaon 27 Jun 2009 at 10:10 am

    We’re still spending, as long as we both have jobs. But on things like filling our garage with hay, filling our woodshed, building materials for much-needed projects, keeping our paid-for cars in good repair, work harness for our draft pony, keeping our animals healthy, etc.

    No frivolous items, unless you count attending Highland Games & Draft Horse shows as frivolous. We consider that mental health expenses.

    I remember some radio commercials at the height of the housing bubble that made my blood boil. They were for equity lines of credit, with a tone of scolding for letting that house steal your money from you. That money is yours! Get it out of there right now! Equity in your house is just a shameful waste of consumer power when you could use it for vacations or a car or crack…..UGH!!!!

    We carefully refinanced when we saw how the wind was blowing. The place we bought had no outbuildings when we got it, and we had built coops & barns, but needed a garage. Our financial savvy got us a lower mortgage rate and a lovely wonderful luxurious 3-bay pole garage with concrete floor, loft space, windows…for only another $100 a month. You have no idea how useful this is in our climate. We store hay & wood when needed, have a shop space for building things, canning kitchen, storage space our 800 sq ft house lacks, and oh yeah, we can park cars in it!

    I can only shake my head at how people are being encouraged to spend money they don’t have on things that won’t help them get through hard times….


  10. Alexandraon 27 Jun 2009 at 10:19 am

    THANK YOU. This “naughty non-consuming consumer, it’s all your fault we’re in this mess!” tone has been driving me insane. I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed.

  11. deepianon 27 Jun 2009 at 10:29 am

    yes – thanks Sharon. We should not see or describe ourselves as “consumers”. And we should not listen to the shallow minds that have created such a mess on planet Earth, and want to expand their destruction further. In a world of scarce resources we can only survive through good husbandry of those resources, which means being more satisfied with less stuff. We can still have more and better experiences though :) The very best experiences in life do not involve much (if any) consumption…

  12. Isison 27 Jun 2009 at 11:18 am

    Ha! I’ve always been frugal, and I’ve only stepped it up (the frugalness, I mean) since the bubble burst. The ‘economy’ is killing the planet, so now that it’s been knocked out, I certainly won’t be helping it back to its feet.

    On a completely different note… I thought it was Shabbat! So how come you’re writing?! :-P

  13. Shambaon 27 Jun 2009 at 11:55 am

    I’ll have to admit to some “spending” the past year. “Shopping” to me means the fun of looking at all the stuff out there not necessarily buying–and yes it is possible to look and not purchase. My mom and I made a sport out of it.

    My spending mostly has been for items related to adapting in place and preparedness purchases! One new digital TV since old TV died and it was no bigger than the 19 inch TV I had before. Also, about 9 months ago one credit card had a memorial service and related expenses put on it. That expense has been paid off though.

    I’ve also discovered two very good thrift stores near me that have a large variety of all kinds of goods. Good for cookware items.

    thanks to Sharon for relieving us of our guilt! I was beginning to resent the implications that I read and saw everywhere about not “spending enough”.

    Peace to all,

  14. Simplicity in Kansason 27 Jun 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Good post! How can when I save money, act responsible and consume less, I am the problem? Hard to believe it has come this situation in America and what will the next four years hold for more spending and debt. I am sooooo tired of people saying thrift is a paradox and not in the best interest of the group of Americans. Not buying it – literal and figurative!

  15. Berkshireon 27 Jun 2009 at 12:44 pm

    OK, I admit it. I am one of the laid off slackers.

    We were having massive layoffs at work but I was safe. I volunteered and had to holler and scream to be let go. I collect social security and did not want to live with some younger person with kids out on the street so I could continue keeping a cubicle from blowing away. Silly me I guess.

    As things turned out I received several weeks of severance and I believe I can collect unemployment for over a year. My wife gets two thirds of her COBRA health insurance paid by Washington.

    I just wanted to mention this as it turned out to be a great way to transition to retirement for others who might be on the border line. Now I’m questioning why I ever started working in the first place!

    Yes we have always raised a large garden and done serious canning. I was born at the end of the depression and I think what my folks went through in the 30s was passed on to me at an early age. I actually remember a WW2 victory garden as one of my first memories.

  16. (: Sunshine :)on 27 Jun 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I confess, my first thought was also “it is Shabbat, and there won’t be a new post” but I always check anyway; I can’t help it! :)

    I just stay amazed at how much one is we are expected to buy – where do people put it all?

    We “pay” to have so many stores – different electronic stores, different clothing stores, etc. just as we do to have so many different laundry detergents on the grocery store shelf – all of which will do an adequate job of cleaning clothes.

    A (male) friend wanted to buy me something nice & took me to a large mall. (He’s a very special guy!) After a very short time, I said we had exhausted the mall’s possibilities & there was nothing there for me.

    He protested; we hadn’t even covered a third of the mall yet! So I bade him to take a closer look – almost all of the clothing stores were in two camps: the older woman and the teenager, neither of which I am.

    Even more to the point, almost all of the stores in each camp sold EXACTLY THE SAME CLOTHES – same colours, same styles, same manufacturers.

    It was a huge building of redundancy.

    He was shocked – and then understood a little where & why I shop how I do.

    I’m also distressed at the pressure to buy “things”. I don’t have extra funds right now, but when I do, I want to spend them on live theatre, museum exhibitions, and classes (both practical (sewing) and fun (learning a new language)).

    I also try to live a “healthcare” lifestyle instead of “disease care” and wish I could afford chiropractic care & massage therapy.

    I’m happy to spend money, but I want it to be on experiences that will enrich me mentally and physically and support those that make this world a better place.

    Instead, right now, my funds are going toward my CSA, bulk staples from a local organic distributor, a few everyday “stock up” items (i.e. extra wool socks) and a rainy day fund.

    I was never a big consumer anyway (well, except for books!) and everything I see, hear and read, makes me glad for that.

    You said “you should realize that we’re done worrying about you. We’ve decided things are over – we felt bad for a whole six months and decided we didn’t like it, so we felt that if we all just pretended things were better, that would help – and so please don’t expect us to give you any attention, …you are so over.”

    So sad, but I feel so true. :(

  17. Tracieon 27 Jun 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I think its a sure sign of upheavel and economic revolution when the addicts (those who plead for us to spend) start name calling and blaming their former suppliers (consumers.) For nearly three decades we (our consumerist culture) have been enabling this mad addiction. Now the addicts see that the drug supply is dwindling. The conclusion they have yet to reach is that if they want to survive, they will have to adjust their dosage downward sharply, permanently. We just have to keep showing tough love (by not spending) until they come to realize that they are powerless over this turn of events. They have to hit bottom and see how their behavior, their expectations of excess, have caused great harm, and that only their trust in something greater than themselves will bring them out of their addiction and back to sanity.

    As a culture we’re not only addicted to oil, we’ve got a spending addiction. Stopping the latter likely will kill the former.

    One of the things that concerns me in all this blaming the non-spender for the decline of the economy is the underlying assumption that excessive spending is the norm, that growth is the norm, that continual over-consumption is the norm.

    I am one of the unemployed, currently. I go to job networking groups and see that this assumption of what is the norm fuels the work world/ the hiring world. There is an intrenched reliance on the belief (value?) that one’s drive for accumulation of wealth and the appearance of wealth is primary to winning a new job, of being an vaulable “player” in the world of work. A denial of true reality and a lack of sanity has a deep visceral feeling in the groups I visit. The CORPORATE definition of viability, of being valuable, of who is a success, permeates everything. If I don’t buy into this delusion, this externally created ethos, how viable of a work candidate am I to those looking to hire? How can I earn a living without appearing to / continuing to swallow the consumption pill? For in this corporate created ethos, if I don’t spend, I don’t have any value!

    This ethos has marginalized the poor for a long time. I suppose I’m now just seeing it from the other side, and it looks downright insane!

  18. Rain23on 27 Jun 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Well, they’re partially right. Those of us who reuse, recycle, restore and make do are destroying the consumption based economy referred to. They ignore the fact that their way of life (spend, work harder, spend, ignore spiritual and family life, work harder, spend…) is destructive and pointless. They made enormous amounts of profit off our greed and inability to delay gratification, and now that so many of us are wising up (by choice or by circumstance), their game is over. They can stop whining at me now, I’ve found a better economy that feeds my spirit, feeds my family and is more just to my neighbors. I’m not giving it up so some corporate executive can flit about in a private jet while the elderly lady across town lives on dog food tacos and only turns the heat on when the temperature is below 32 degrees.

  19. Karinon 27 Jun 2009 at 5:50 pm

    When there is Federal dismay at a rising savings rate, I wonder if it ever crossed TPTB that the saving is not because there is excess cash we are withholding from the consumer economy; but, rather a very real fear of uncertainty for our own financial futures?

  20. bryanon 27 Jun 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I’m not convinced that ’savings’ are the right idea either – in the 1930’s a lot of sensible people saved up and trusted banks which disappeared. Of course we could never have any bank failures today.

    Not my idea – one of these ‘doomer’ websites suggested a buying spree might not be a bad idea. For example, Australia produces quite a bit of aluminium – from coal power. A reduction in diesel will make it harder to mine metals, a coal shortage or carbon tax/reduction will reduce the amount of Aluminium available. It is fairly inert so will last forever dry & under cover.

    If you think things are likely to be energy starved in the future things like copper, aluminium, windows, mirrors, might be sensible. Especially if you know someone with the skills to turn ‘ingots’ into ‘products’. More useful than a LCD TV, and probably more reliable than ‘Securities” (whatever that means now), a bank account or any stock market. Or those little symbolic “1 US Dollar” bills that are about as valuable as any piece of paper that can’t be used for writing letters…

    Thank you Sharon for all your writing – I don’t know how you do it, I often don’t have time to READ your stuff – maybe you write faster than I read…

  21. deweyon 28 Jun 2009 at 4:46 am

    Great metaphor, Tracie, but I think you have stated it backwards. We average people have been the addicts (to “stuff” and services) and the corporate executives have been the pushers who encouraged us to “need” ever more and more of these things and then made enormous profits taking ever more of our earnings as our cravings increased. In the last decade or two, our nationwide addiction has gotten so out of control that the cost of our “drugs” was more than our total income, so we engaged in a desperate scramble to find money for our dealers somewhere else, like by stealing car stereos and jacking up liquor stores – no, sorry, I mean by taking out second mortgages and running up credit card debts.

  22. Julien Peter Benneyon 28 Jun 2009 at 6:59 am

    Although I have never been skilled enough to avoid it entirely, there is much to recommend about avoid mass-produced products where possible. The cultural effects in promoting materialism, secularisation and consequent demographic decline in enriched nations of Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand are clear.

    In unenriched like Australia environments mass production does not promote materialism and masculinisation but rather cultural passivity, low quality of products and ecological destruction via utterly appalling levels of energy consumption resulting from a market that does nothing to penalise waste because Australia has too much fuel (huge brown coal reserves) and land even for a population known to be far above what can be ecologically sustained.

    What one hope people avoiding mass produced goods can achieve in enriched environments is a less materialistic culture that does not view empathy and compassion as sins – as Arthur Brooks conclusively shows much of Europe, East Asia, Canada and New Zealand do. Such a culture might have hopes of reversing the demographic problems faced by these nations today. In the case of an unenriched environment the challenge is different: to resist dirt-cheap living costs that are driving a rapid climate catastrophe in Australia today. (Sharon, I imagine you are unaware that recent research has shown that climate belts in Australia have already shifted so far poleward that Melbourne has the climate of historic Bourke in the outback of New South Wales).

  23. Sharonon 28 Jun 2009 at 8:00 am

    The magic of the internet allows me to write a post on Friday morning and have it occasionally come up on Shabbat ;-) .


  24. Tracieon 28 Jun 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Ah, Dewey, yes the addicts are us too, but it does run both ways. Pushers’ money and power evaporate when demand bottoms out. It’s the mutual dependency that keeps it flowing and growing. The pushers are addicted to the money and the power bestowed on them due to the addicts desire for their product. Their withdrawl symptoms are severe, and their reaction to loss of power deseperate. Pusher or addict, they’re really interchangeable.

  25. Lynneon 28 Jun 2009 at 5:50 pm

    My husband and I have been making the transition to a lower spending, low emissions lifestyle gradually over the course of the past 8 years. It’s taken a lot of time, and there is still a lot of inconsistency between our actions and our beliefs, but we’re getting there. We both work 1/2 time. Last year we were able to pay off our mortgage, save more money than at any point in our lives, invest in an irrigation system, take 6 weeks off without pay, invest in food storage, buy me a (skookum) bicycle and much more. Our financial stability (so far….we are so lucky!) shocks even us sometimes given how little we earn. We just decided at some point that financial stability has almost as much to do with how much you spend as how much you earn. And there is ample (ample!) evidence that beyond a certain basic standard of living, spending does not contribute to happiness and can interfere with happiness. (See “TED” talks on happiness, they are wonderful).

    We live extremely comfortably on one tenth of the income of an acquaintance of ours who this year had to forgo the purchase of a gorgeous second hand bicycle for $1200 because he is cash-strapped. He makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and is so over-extended that he cannot afford the bicycle he really wanted. He is poor. But banks, credit card companies, Walmart (yes, he shops routinely at Walmart with that income) – they are getting rich off of him. This is what msnbc is promoting.

    George Monbiot writes something to the effect that “Someone who can live on $5000/year is six times as secure as someone who needs $30 000 per year”. That’s been our goal. Suddenly we have more savings. Our savings can go further because we have fewer needs. We can turn down work because we don’t need the money. We have more time to work in the garden and cook at home because we aren’t working so damn much. This saves us money….which frees us to…well, I’ve rambled enough. I just feel really passionately about this subject. Thank you for this post.

  26. Jasonon 29 Jun 2009 at 2:27 am

    Great post Sharon and great comments, liked that last one by Joanna very much.

    I guess the only comment I’d have is, the ultimate problem here is really that what is unsustainable, like, can’t… be sustained. :) It’s no good yelling at poor people when the very ecology of the situation is what is speaking. The problem is really that we’re living on what John Gray calls ‘prozac politics’. Nobody can say what is really happening because it will spook wall street.

    Transition in the UK had a visit from a government minister who ended up saying, ‘You’ll never sell a no-growth lifestyle to the public at large.’ Never mind that this is our one hope for a sane or livable future! You can’t sell it, and that’s that.

    In the end, that problem (the ostrich problem) is what we’re really dealing with. People who write things like what Sharon linked to here still think their paradigm corresponds to reality, and no-one has the nerve to start talking about the other side of things.

  27. kathyon 29 Jun 2009 at 6:47 am

    I have to watch myself so I don’t turn my quest to make do with less into an excuse to spend. It is easy to get into the buy-to-save mind set. My canning kettle rack is really rusty as I often forget to wipe it dry after use. I very nearly ran out to WalMart to buy a new one but I took a deep breath and held out. I find new or nearly new racks at tag sales fairly often. The old one still has use in it. As there is no hurry, I will wait to find a used one but the temptation is always there. I have been wanting a Vita-Mix but at well over $500.00 for an electric gadget, it is not a wise spend. I have applicances that already perform the functions. I just make sure to recycle the adds I get in the mail before I look at them. I will resist. I will resist. I will resist. It is my mantra.

  28. WNC Observeron 29 Jun 2009 at 9:33 am

    The possession of stuff shouldn’t be a source of happiness, and for the most part it isn’t for me. I do confess, though, that I am deriving a certain amount of happiness from the used, excellent-quality USA-made stuff that I have bought on ebay. It makes me happy that I am giving these things an extended useful life rather than them adding to the pile at the landfill. It also makes me happy that I am not contributing to the demand for ever-more container ships steaming over from China, in exchange for trillions of dollars that we don’t really have and haven’t earned. It makes me happy that I am obtaining what I need for less cost than what I would have to pay for inferior new products at the store. Finally, it makes me happy to own stuff that isn’t crap, stuff that actually was made to be better and more durable than the Chinese crap that fills all the retail stores now.

  29. [...] You Aren’t Losing Your Job, You are Holding Back Consumer Spending! by Sharon Astyk [...]

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