2 October 2008

A Vague and Rambling Rant Inspired By A Rather Ill-Timed Note Recently Received In The Mail

I recently got a letter from my Credit Card Company. They appear to believe me to be a good customer and have invited me to go into debt, or, as they phrase it, they've "extended my credit limit". In addition, they are so thrilled with my business they have told me I don't have to make even the minimum payment this month, and they will be fully content to allow my balance to carry over and collect interest at their loan shark rates for one whole month. Very kind of them.

I'm paying the balance off anyway, and telling them to knock my limit back down.

Isn't there some rather large event in the news- I seem to recall seeing or hear something to this effect- about debt loads causing some sort of problem rather recently? Wasn't there some kind of- what's the word?- "depression" thingee back in the 30's caused large debt loads? Aren't we again being threatened with another depression over this very issue? And hasn't anyone figured this out yet? Debt is not good?

What has happened to us that we are so married to debt? Why am I regarded as some kind of economic freak, some kind of GNP deadbeat, because I avoid spending money I do not have? (just a note- I really only use my card for emergencies and car rentals.)

We live in a society that has enshrined discontent and entitlement. People seem to be of the opinion that they deserve whatever it is they want, when they want it, as soon as they want it. We are told that we are miserable and happiness is a purchase away. Advertisers and self help/lifestyle gurus have convinced people that life will be better if they have this car, or that shaped body, or this kind of house and so on. They have even convinced people that the crap they watch on tv will be much less crappy if they watched it on wide flat screen high definition television, and the morons sounding off on Oprah will sound less moronic if their voices are carried in THX surround sound. So incredible is the advertisers'/ gurus' audacity, so firm is their hold on the market and the imaginations of the couch potatoes that they can make their claims of some thing which will buy happiness even though every single other purchase the couch spuds (I yam what I yam) have previously made failed to bring the promised joy that was to come with that piece of consumer trash. And with their credit cards and their debt they may have whatever it is they want instantly, at no money down. And people believe this can go on indefinitely.

I recently had a debate with several people about housing prices in Toronto. Study after study has indicated that the average person in Toronto cannot afford the average home in Toronto. Now, I am not an economics major, and accounting often seems to me to be some kind of voodoo science, but I still am unwilling to believe when the experts tell me this is not a bad situation. Or when they tell me this situation will last, and I had better buy a house now, even though I can't afford one, because prices will only go up and up. The people I debate seem to think their value of their monster house/money pit will never come down, and that their nearly 100% mortgage was a sound investment, in spite of the recent collapse of the market south of the border.

How many bubbles have we seen burst? The pacific rim, the dot com, now this one- you can go back to the tulip bubble of 1637 and show how the bubble always, always bursts yet people still think that this time it will not happen to them. No, not this time. It can't.

We reward the very worst of irresponsible behaviour all in the name of our "way of life" or the Gross National Product. My way of living doesn't help the GNP much. Being a responsible adult looking after my children in my own poor way does not add to the GNP as much as being an irresponsible parent and spoiling my children to the limit of my credit. Hades, if I were to abuse my children on camera and sell it on the internet I would contribute more to the GNP than I do by giving them free hugs and free kisses, and tucking them in bed after reading them a book I borrowed from the library.

But is it really worth contributing to all that much. Take a drive down any main street almost, and see the conglomeration of cd stores and computer games; strip clubs; stores focused on adult(ery) recreation and more porn than you can read in a lifetime; bars and alcohol and beer and donut shops and greasy fast fried heart attack on a bun and always the ads for more of the same, only this time BETTER! and all done up in high gloss and featuring a photograph of some star or other who never came within a lifetime of this place plus their grinning teeth as they lie about the garbage they were paid to shill. A Gross National Product indeed.

What happened to the coffee jar mentality, or the old sock or whatever, where if you wanted to buy an item that was out of your range, you put some money aside in an old jar of some kind, a little a week, until you have the money to make the purchase, cash on the barrelhead? I myself have done this from time to time, slowly saving up to get some item I seem to desperately need, until, after months of saving I have the money and then I... don't buy it. Why? because in the meantime I have realized I can live without whatever it was I seemed to want so desperately just a few months earlier, and if I can live without it, then I don't need it.

So no, I don't want that debt. I don't want to give into my consumer impulses. Sure, there are days when I'd love to have one of those monumental thingamajigs that does whatever it is they do so well, and to see it looking so nice and shiny, with each part lovingly crafted by underpaid Chinese labour or carefully assembled by some five-year old chained to his worktable in some far off Crapistan, but in a week's time something else will come out that is bigger, shinier, better, more important, and the advertisers will be telling me to get the new and to stay away from the old. So why wait a week before I don't get it? Why don't I not get it right now, and settle myself into the chairs I built and re-upholstered- yeah, it's a pain doing all that work but it beats paying someone else to do it for me- and read a book or think about my next project in the shop or I may even watch a little tv on the old box I got from my in-laws after they bought several(!) of the new flatscreens and discovered they had more tv's than people in their house, and gave us one of the overflows. (They still have more tv's than people, but the ratio is down a bit. I think they pity us.) Then the need for more stuff in my life seems to be distant and away.

Yeah, I'm practically white trash and I can't give my kids all the stuff they want, or the vacations they want, but at the same time I haven't saddled them with a ton of debt and what is ours is indeed ours. I've taught them that they don't 'deserve' all that garbage out there because they're better than that, and hopefully, hopefully, they may learn a little about self restraint, self-reliance, and that there are more important things than owning... anything, really.

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