Archive for September 29th, 2009
If you want to study the history of thriftiness (and the lack thereof), check out “Saving Yourself,” an article by Daniel Akst that appears in the Wilson Quarterly. One of the key figures in Akst’s article is Thorstein Veblen:
Thorstein Veblen, the peripatetic Norwegian-American economist (he died in 1929, shortly before the great crash that might have brought him grim satisfaction), is best known today for his theory of conspicuous consumption, which argued that a lot of spending is just a wasteful attempt to impress. In effect, Veblen explained consumerism in terms of status and display, bringing evolutionary ideas to bear on economics and consumer behavior to powerful effect. Reading Veblen is a little like reading Freud or Darwin, albeit on a smaller scale: Do so and you’ll never look at the world in quite the same way again.
As you might imagine, the iconoclastic Veblen took a dim view of all the conspicuous consumption around him, regarding it as a species of giant potlatch in which competitive waste had run amok. You might call Veblen’s the voice of thrift, and it is still heard today from leftist intellectuals who, from their tenured pulpits and Arts and Crafts homes, reliably denounce the spending of others. The truth is that nobody listens to these people, except to submit to their periodic floggings as a kind of penance for sins we have no intention of ceasing.
Where are we now? Akst points out some good news:
Conspicuous consumption, like tobacco, has fallen into social disrepute, a change that removes some of the pressure felt by many families to keep up with the Joneses (who may well have been foreclosed by now).
Akst ends his article with lots of avuncular advice on surviving our current and future materialist downsizing. A lifetime thrifty person, Akst is not pessimistic: “Thrift is far from the worst thing we can have thrust upon us.”
We’re about to spend hundreds of thousands of American dollars incarcerating a Canadian who was busted for selling marijuana seeds. He never set foot in the United States, but he’s being extradited. Who did he hurt?
“There isn’t a single victim in my case, no one who can stand up and say, ‘I was hurt by Marc Emery.’ No one.”
Here’s the conclusion of an article by Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun:
Emery is facing more jail time than corporate criminals who defraud widows and orphans and longer incarceration than violent offenders who leave their victims dead or in wheelchairs. Whatever else you may think of him — and I know he rankles many — what is happening to him today mocks our independence and our ideal of justice.
Emery’s crime is so incredibly serious that he would have spent an entire month in a Canadian prison for his crime. But, apparently, we have nothing better to do with American tax dollars than incarcerating people who sell marijuana seeds to people who want to buy them.
Michael Moore gives 13 reasons why the current proposals don’t get to the heart of the problem. His conclusion:
We may be slow learners, but the rest of the industrial world has figured it out: Universal, single-payer or national health care systems. That’s the reason why all those other countries cover everyone, have better patient outcomes, cause no one to declare bankruptcy or lose their homes because of medical bills, and spend less than half per capita on health care than we do. We could do it too, by reducing the starting age for Medicare from 65 to 0. There’s still time to act.