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?