Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Positive Side of Inflation

Over the past ten years prices on consumer goods have increased at a manageable rate of 2-3.5%. This year, however, prices have risen at a rate of 7.4%. With oil at $111.00 a barrel, it is going to become increasingly more difficult for American families to heat their homes, drive their gas-guzzling cars, and still have enough money left to pay their mortgages, taxes, health insurance premiums, and credit card balances.

If wages had also been rising steadily, this wouldn't be a problem, but in fact the wages of working Americans have been declining in real terms since the 1970s. And now many poor and middle-class Americans are faced with stagnant or declining wages at the same time that inflation is on the rise and credit is being tightened. To make matters even worse, Americans have taken on record debt and have the lowest level of savings--the numbers now are in the negative regions--since the Great Depression. In short, things are bad, and they are probably going to get much worse during the next few years.

Although it may not be a comfort to those folks who will lose their jobs and be driven out of their homes during the economic meltdown that we are about to experience, there is something positive that can come out of this economic mess. During the past 35 years, American consumption has exploded thanks to cheap oil and easy credit. We live in bigger homes, drive fancier cars, eat out more often, and take more vacations than any other human beings on the planet. If we are forced to dramatically reduce our levels of consumption, this would actually be a good thing for our souls and for the state of the planet. It would be good for our souls because, as the ancients understood, mindless consumption necessarily leads to misery and discontent. It would be good for the planet because less consumption necessarily means less waste.

The solution, then, to our spiritual malaise and to our ecological crisis is to follow the wisdom of that great philosopher, Paris Hilton, and start living...

This is not as far-fetched as it might sound. For the past thirty years, we Americans have lived like bloated pigs at the trough (the trough, of course, representing the world's resouces, which we have been depleating at an alarming rate). Now circumstance rather than moral wisdom will necessitate that we dramatically reduce our standard of living. Depending upon how bad things get, Americans may have to start getting used to living like our parents did in the 1950s...eating at home more often, using public transportation more frequently, cutting out coupons from the Sunday newspaper to reduce costs at the supermarket, and traveling to the Catskills for vacation rather than to Europe or the Caribbean. For many Americans who have gotten use to the fat life, this sort of existence will represent nothing short of a living hell. There are others, though, who will probably do just fine during, what James Howard Kunstler has prophetically called, "The Long Emergency." Sure, we won't be able to go out for lattes at Starbucks any more, but we may actually start to value those intangible goods that make life worth living--more time with our family and friends, opportunities for personal growth and spiritual enrichment, and a more intimate connection with the natural world.

If that doesn't sound appetizing, you can always find a large building to jump off of. Just make sure that no one is standing beneath you when you take the plunge!


  1. Okay great, so tomorrow when I wake up I want all shopping malls gone. No more McDonalds and the like. I want it all gone!!! I think that would be a great start.

  2. that would be a great start, but not just america , all human beings got to start appreciating this planet that we are destroying with green gases, melting of icecaps, dying coral reefs . its a chain that if allow to continue,it cant be instead of spending billions looking for ET . should spend it at home.


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