I’m growing very tired of the word “consumer.” Every time I turn on the TV, the talking heads are discussing “the consumer.” Consumers aren’t spending as much, consumers are cutting back, consumers are hurting, consumers need to increase their spending to save the economy. It’s as though consumers are the only component of the economy. Oh, that’s right. Thanks to many jobs being sent overseas and less production in this country, consumers are the lynch-pin of the U.S. economy. Without consumers (and their associated debt), we have very little other economic activity to fall back on, as seen in the current market crisis.
Because consumer spending is so important to the economy, “consumers” are avidly tracked and monitored in the hopes that their spending habits can be determined and molded. Consumers are billed as either the saviors or destroyers of the economy. Spend and we’re doing our job well. Cut back and it’s the consumers’ fault that the economy fails. Consumers can cover a variety of economic ills as long as they’re spending. But when the spending stops (whether voluntarily or because the money/debt runs out), the underlying economic problems are exposed. Just like now.
But I’m beginning to think this obsession with the consumer has gone too far. We are no longer citizens whose contributions to society are rich and varied. The time when your value was determined by your productivity, or your volunteer contributions, or any other of your unique talents is gone. We are measured and valued on only one thing: How much we can spend. That’s the only thing that matters in our economy today. In fact, it seems as though anything other than spending (or working to make more money to spend) is considered a waste of time. The volunteer work you do for the literacy foundation? Waste of time because you’re not making or spending money. The time you spend at the hospital visiting sick kids? Waste of time. The fact that you can use your handyman skills to do home repairs rather than calling a service? Big mistake because you’re cheating the economy out of money. Everything you do to save money is a mistake in the eyes of the economy because, as a consumer, you should spend, spend, spend as much and as often as you can.
I, for one, have had enough and am officially rebelling against being called a consumer. I’ve never been a big spender even in the best of times, preferring instead to live moderately and squirrel away money for the future. I guess you could say that all along I’ve failed to do my part for the economy because I’ve chosen to save rather than spend. I suppose I’m a failure in my country’s eyes. Good for me. If more of us were failures at being consumers, we might not be in the economic mess we’re currently in.
I resent the fact that every time I choose to clip coupons or do my own repairs or refuse to spend money on yet another shirt or handbag, that I am accused by the media and the government of not doing my part. I have disposable income that I choose to save. This apparently makes me a bad person. I chose to save my stimulus check, in direct defiance of my president’s orders to spend it. To hear the media tell it, that makes me at least partially responsible for the economic collapse.
I’m tired of feeling like I’m not living up to my responsibilities as a citizen because I choose to save rather than spend. I do many valuable things with my time that don’t involve spending or earning, but none of that seems to matter to anyone except me (and maybe the people I help through volunteer work). I live responsibly and below my means, incur no debt and pay all of my bills on time. In my eyes, this makes me a better citizen than the “rampant consumer” that the media and the government is trying to hold up as the model citizen. The way I see it, rampant consumerism (and the associated defaults and bankruptcies) is a big chunk of what got us into our current economic mess and I’m (in a twisted way) proud to say that I didn’t have anything to do with it.
It may just be that those of us who have opted out of the “consumer” model are the ones who will help turn this economy around in the long term. Our savings are giving the banks cash to work with. We can teach others how to live below their means and adjust to a world with less available credit. We will have money saved for our old age, reducing the burden on the government to care for us. We have money available to invest in good companies to encourage their growth. We have money to pay our taxes to keep the government going. We are paying our mortgages, giving the banks capital and reducing, if only slightly, the number of defaults on their books. When the credit cards and loans are gone, it will be our cash that carries the economy.
I’m beginning to think that the media and the government have it all wrong. The consumer isn’t the savior of the economy. The savior of the economy will be the saver. So don’t call me a consumer and don’t expect me to save the economy through spending. Try referring to me as a person or a citizen. Try looking at my contributions to society beyond my spending. Try appreciating the fact that I pay my bills instead of defaulting on them. Maybe if the media and the government spent less time lauding the “consumer” and more time appreciating the saver, we’d be in a better financial place right now.
Image courtesy of The Revolution