The Joys of Recession?
posted at 6:38 am on April 20, 2009 by The Other McCain
Suzanna Logan muses on the possible salutary effects of the recession:
To be loosed from the obsessive fascination with the materialism that surrounds us would free us to look inward, to spend our time and energies rebuilding what we have sacrificed of our souls while amassing more “stuff.” . . . After stifling under the excesses of our consumerist culture for so long, a streamlined, if not stoic, existence may be one of the few novelties left. And, doesn’t it sound grand?
I fear she’s on the verge of Dreheresque crunchiness here: The false nostalgia that the affluent sometimes manifest toward hardship that they have never personally experienced, certainly not in the unchosen way that poverty is experienced by the poor.
Romanticizing poverty is foolish. There is no joy in deciding between whether to (a) make the car payment, (b) pay the phone bill, or (b) try to keep the electricity on for another month. It is one thing — and arguably a good thing — for young people to struggle with economic hardship as they try to establish their independence. It is something entirely different, and a very bad thing, to confront a poverty that is permanent, lifelong, inescapable, hopeless.
My perceptions in this regard were indelibly shaped by coming of age in the 1970s, when high inflation, high interest rates and high unemployment created a prolonged economic gloom. When I was 16 in 1975 , a new Jack’s Hamburgers restaurant opened in Douglasville, Ga., and I went there after school to apply for a job. The lobby was full of people applying for jobs, including grown men.
Well, for me, there was the beneficial effect of learning to be grateful for a job that paid $1.80 an hour to flip burgers. But what about those men in their 30s and 40s who applied for, and didn’t get, that job?
Likewise, I often recall the year-and-a-half I spent driving a forklift in an industrial warehouse. That was a formative experience that enables me to laugh derisively when someone in an air-conditioned office cubicle tells me how hard they’re working. But what about the people who are still working in that warehouse, who’ve been working there for more than 20 years, and who have no skill that will enable them ever to hope for anything better?
It is one thing to scorn the kind of status-obsessed yuppie materialism in which women make a point of wearing certain brand-name shoes and men glory in the size of their plasma-screen TVs. It is another thing entirely to celebrate poverty as if it were just another “lifestyle option,” rather than the absence of options. The most miserable thing about poverty is that one has so few choices. “What shall we have for dinner — rice and beans or beans and rice?”
After the Georgia Libertarian Party convention Saturday, LP 2008 vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allen Root was telling a bunch of us about what the recession has wrought in Las Vegas, where he lives. One anecdote stuck in my mind: “A couple of years ago, you’d go into Whole Foods and it would be packed. I went in there yesterday, and the place was empty — at 5 o’clock on a Friday!”
Rod Dreher’s “crunchy” manifesto rather famously celebrated the joys of shopping at Whole Foods, as if there were spiritual value in eating organic. The point that most of Dreher’s admirers missed is that buying organic food is a choice, and rather a luxurious choice at that, since shopping at Whole Foods is more expensive than shopping at Food Lion.
Having never suffered from “the obsessive fascination with the materialism that surrounds us,” but rather being concerned with the more prosaic business of trying to pay the bills and keep a roof over my family’s heads, excuse me if I don’t get too excited about The Joys of Recession.