There must be more money

            In D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking Horse Winner,” a little boy hears a recurring whisper in his house: “There must be more money.  There must be more money.”  It’s a great story that you ought to read yourself, but I will be giving nothing away if I tell you that – no matter how much money actually comes into his house – there still is just not enough.

            When I was younger, I read it as a story about materialism, probably because it is.  But, it is also a story about trying to shore up against an insecure world.  The mother, who buys and buys and always needs more, needs lots of Stuff.  And, why does she need all that Stuff?  Because the world is an uncertain place, with hurricanes and recessions and rapists and climate change and two huge fucking flotillas of plastic in the oceans.  Maybe if we have enough Things, we can build a dike to keep the forces of chaos out.

            There are about 98 flaws with this logic, but that doesn’t stop people from trying it nonetheless.  Your husband cheats?  Buy something.  Long day at work?  Try a little retail therapy.  Lose your job?  Max out the credit cards, a particularly foolish thing to do if you don’t have a paycheck.

            Our economy is built on this compulsive need to Get More Crap.  And, when people stop buying crap, there is panic.  What do we do if people stop buying things they don’t need?  We slip into a recession, maybe even a depression.

            But, it doesn’t need to be this way.  We don’t need to judge the economy on new housing starts.  Why is it a good thing to build more houses that we’ll tear down in twenty years?  Why can’t we judge the economy on how much money is spent renovating old houses?  Or on how sturdy the houses are?

            I love the idea of stimulating the economy by fixing our infrastructure because it is about spending on something we actually need.  I do not think a healthy economy and a healthy planet need to be mutually exclusive.  If spending money is good for the economy, why not retool the system so we spend on organic produce, fair wages, and alternative forms of energy?

            There must be more money, there must be more money.  But how will we spend it?

24 responses to “There must be more money

  1. Consumerism has become a new demi-god in our society! Well written, it is time that people start channelling money to where it counts instead of adding to the landfills of crap out there.

  2. Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I’m so tired of the buy-and-trash cycle that is so ingrained in our culture.

  3. I agree! Whenever I speak to my cousin she says, “I don’t understand how you can afford to buy organic food.” Something I hear often from various family members. Sure it’s more expensive. As is buying all-natural biodegradable household cleaners, laundry soap, etc. BUT – we don’t spend our money on other useless crap. So there is more left over for things we not only need but things that I don’t feel guilty about buying/consuming.

    It’s all about choices. Unfortunately, too many people make the ones that are most convenient without giving much thought to the bigger picture.

    I have noticed though, since the economy went in the crapper, family that I never thought would change their unsustainable lifestyle ARE becoming more aware and are taking those first steps towards change…..

  4. I ❤ this article. Totally.
    Consumerism – especially manufacture of inferior articles that won’t last – gets my goat BIGTIME. If we didn’t waste so much, we would all live so much better!

  5. We could also restructure the economy such that GDP isn’t the only measure of wealth. I like Marilyn Waring’s ideas for economic reform wherein the largely unpaid work of women and often children from around the world is adequately measured and becomes a factor in determining economic activity.

  6. It’s all about where you place your value. If you value better roads over, say, wall street investment banks, then it makes sense to pay for it.
    But it’s not so easy when dealing with others’ perceptions of value. One man’s floor, and all that. Infrastructure may be at the top of your list, but consumer spending is high on others’.

  7. Good post. As a general rule, I think I do pretty well at not buying stuff. Not for any altruistic reason, but simply because the more stuff I have around me, the more chaotic I feel emotionally and mentally. But I have to admit that every 4th month, when I get that extra paycheck, some part of my brain awakens: “Hey! I have extra money! I need a new camera! And a new computer! And a new bed! And that spiffy new handbag! Andandand!” Now, some of those things I DO actually need: my computer is about to die, for instance. (“Need” of course, being a relative term. ;D) But the handbag? The camera? NOT. SO. MUCH. And the stuff I really want, I save for, so I KNOW I really want it. But those impulse buys . . . it’s like the little repressed American Consumer rears its ugly head. I have to be careful during those months.

  8. I am desperately trying to teach my kids that just because someone has STUFF, it doesn’t mean they have money to pay for the stuff. We have less stuff, and they think that means we have less money. Truth be told, we probably are slightly better off than the average American family, but we don’t spend recklessly or needlessly. We don’t spend for the sake of spending.

    Consumerism built a house of cards that came tumbling down, and I am hoping that this will take us back to simpler values. Historically speaking, that’s what happens after a recsession, but it always seems to rear it’s ugly head again eventually.

    Hopefully some of what I’m teaching my kids will get through and when the next recession hits, they will be able to weather the storm.

  9. I agree with you and the earth needs a change. We need to spend our money on durability. But there is another issue too. Consumerism is equated with western capitalism, spending money on infrastructure is equated with socialism and that is a false equation. The s-word is what stops money being spent on many worthy things: education, the arts, universal health care, a social safety net. There are lots of ways to stimulate the economy other than buying shit nobody needs. And with those other things, there might be less fear and need to do so.

  10. The whole situation just burns me up….. my parents raised 3 kids on a very meager budget, and we didnt even know it was meager! We had vacations (albeit inexpensive camping trips) we even were given private education!!! What I was taught is that there will always be periods of hard times and periods of easier living. Our job, our RESPONSIBILITY is to prepare ourselves for these hard times. I was taught that you don’t buy anything until you save up the money, and you know what….my house is my only debt! I am able to stay home with my kids, not because my husband makes huge money, but because I don’t require new cars, fancy clothes, shoes, bags etc! I am furious that we even need the government to bail us out. I am furious that my family’s tax dollars have to be spent to fix someone elses greed….and that is exactly what it is….GREED……..plain and simple. We would not be in this situation if not for MY generations greed, and we can blame the government all we want, but we also need to take a hard look in the mirror and put the blame also on ourselves….because we collectively were living as if hard times would never touch us, despite knowing that historically they certainly would.

    My hope is that my friends, my relatives, my COUNTRY, will use this “lesson” to make better decisions in the future and to educate their children on saving for the proverbial “rainy day” .

    My fear is that instead of taking any personal accountability, we will sit back and wait for the government to “save” us.

  11. I was just reading something in the times about how, in the short-term, we should be spending more, and then suddenly quit and get fiscally responsible. Yeah right.

  12. I vaguely remember reading that in AP English.

    I am always disturbed by this whole “the economy sucks because people aren’t using credit and people aren’t buying stuff”. you’ve expressed this perfectly.

  13. this post is why i adore you.

  14. You are not alone in thinking this. Only the other day, I noticed this post:

    http://liliannattel.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/money/

    I can only hope that some sea change in opinion occurs. What are the chances, d’you reckon?

  15. I’m toying with an idea but not sure how to pull it off. I’m thinking about choosing one category (or item) from my shopping each month (or so…) and donate an equal amount – or a percentage, or a multiple, all depending on what the thing is – to a related cause that I feel strongly about. So if, for example, I need to buy a baby gift I would maybe donate that month to a charity working with neo-nates in developing countries and so forth. The idea would be to be more thoughtful not only about what I’m buying, but how my lifestyle relates to the larger world.

  16. touché, Emily. more more more. to what end? an unsustainable system that needs fixing more than propping up.

    i’m trying to learn where my stuff comes from, to opt out of the stuff i can and make the most humane and green choices i can within my limited but increasing awareness. often, it feels like a choice between bad and bad, which is sometimes then reason to sit back and go, huh…maybe we can do without that.

    i too keep hearing about how ethical choices are so expensive. yet i make and spend less money than many i hear this from. i think they do reflect privilege of information and the time to ferret out information. but damn, i wish more of the people who COULD would exercise that privilege. because barging blindly on is ridiculous, and will probably be the death of all of us.

  17. god, i’m so cheery.

  18. Funny I was just thinking about this the last week or so. . .

  19. I’ve played both sides. I’m a spender and a saver, but I’ve always managed not to get in over my head. I don’t lust after things, but if I’m going to spend my money on something, it’s got to be quality and last for years.

    I have no idea what the answers are for fixing this economy, but I love the fact that people are questioning buying yet another pair of shoes. Living beyond one’s means has been way out of control for many years now, and it’s a good but painful lesson being learned by all of us.

  20. Oh, they’ll keep taking more money and taking more money, from all the poor hard-working people. And then they’ll keep wasting the money and wasting the money on ridiculous pet projects that will garner more votes in the next election. I’m a saver, yet my meager interest is taxed so some lousy politician can spend it on something totally irrelevant. Fed up? You bet I am.

  21. I could not agree with you more. A few months ago , my friend sent me a video called, “HOw much stuff do you need?” I have not been the same since. I used to be the retail therapy type but no more and I like my life a lot better b/c of it.

  22. Emily, I love the thoughts expressed in this post. I’ve been thinking the same thing as I’ve listened to economists drivel on about the failing economy and the fact that we need to PRODUCE and SPEND in order to get it back on track. I’m thinking, maybe this is the correction we all needed– stop the mass production of useless crap and start investing in things that matter, like infrastructure and the future of the planet.

  23. Hear hear! I think that an economy that depends on people overspending on stuff they don’t need is false, and like you point out it’s also bad for the planet. There’s got to be a better way. I’m glad to read this, and know that lots of us are thinking the same thing.

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