Regarding our Fate here in the United States, the writing was on the wall when Americans, actual living & breathing human beings, were labeled and treated as units of consumption. Officially, we are consumers. Apparently, Americans are evaluated solely on whether they are spending enough money. Consuming boosts Gross Domestic Product, and GDP is the only thing that counts. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got the money or not. The virtue of Thrift, of living within your means, got tossed out the window a long, long time ago.
What happened to communities? What happened to families? Family participation in those communities? Civic duty? Service? Looking out for others? Shared responsibility? Living what philosophers call the Good Life? All this existed after World War II, but that’s all over and done with now. René Descarte would be bowled over to find out that in America, human existence & identity are defined by I consume, therefore I am.
I have made the point that many Americans live on the edge. So many of them live paycheck-to-paycheck, if they get a paycheck, that is—41 million on are food stamps, while one in seven live below the poverty line. I view this kind of terror-filled vulnerability as a problem. But that’s not a problem here in America, that’s a policy. Working your ass off every week and then spending everything you make—or more, if you use credit, which is encouraged—this is the magic that makes the economy grow.
The Census Bureau released the August retail sales numbers. They went up! The flacks on NPR couldn’t get the words out fast enough: retail sales increased—hoorah!—lessening the chances of a double dip. The tone was celebratory. We’re saved!
We’re so fucking anxious to see Americans spending money—this is their most important, if not sole, purpose in life—that the Census Bureau gooses the numbers to increase our general Happiness. (They’ll be revised down next month.) Mish points out that State sales tax receipts don’t reflect an increase in retail sales, even though those tax rates have been increased in many cases as the States try to make ends meet. He doesn’t believe the official numbers, and he shouldn’t. He uses this chart from Calculated Risk.
I think Mish should have taken a closer look at the chart. Conveniently for us, Calculated Risk separates out gasoline sales (ex-gasoline, in red) from all retail sales (in blue), which rose 0.4% according to the Census Bureau, with an error margin of ±0.5%. You can see that sales ex-gasoline were essentially flat, so it was fuel purchases that drove up retail sales. It was August, the last full month of summer. People drove more.
Increasing your consumption is the most important thing, it is our all-consuming ambition. It doesn’t fucking matter what you consume. Are you buying more gasoline? If so, that’s considered a Good Thing. As a result, the Sacred GDP goes up, and what could possibly be more important than that? It doesn’t fucking matter that we imported 60% of our crude oil inputs to refineries last week. As long as the GDP number goes up, as long as you’re buying more stuff, whether it’s refined hydrocarbons or Apple’s iShit, it’s all good.
America has consumption disease, and I’m not talking about tuberculosis. We’re not well, OK? We’re sick! It was our self-destructive consumption binge over the last few decades that helped create our anemic condition now. I don’t have time today to talk about trade deficits or other details, but here’s a lesson you might draw even without the details—
More indiscriminate consumption is not the answer to what ails us
You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to understand that if you’re engaged in a self-destructive behavior, the only way to regain your health is to stop behaving that way. But the disease goes even deeper than that. We are constantly characterized as consumers. Thus we think of ourselves, consciously or not, as consumers. What a truly impoverished view of the human being that is!
Now that you’ve read this, you are properly prepared to watch this Tech Ticker video The Consumer Comes Alive! It seems that the consumer is more “calculating” now than he used to be, less “conspicuous” in his consumption. Where’s the bucket? — I need to throw up.
I leave it as an exercise for the reader to count the number of times Marshall Cohen (no relation) says the noun phrase the consumer (or the plural consumers) in this video.