My late Uncle Hal had a few comedic saws he’d always pull out, usually after few beers. In one of his routines he would rub his palms together and say, “Consume. Consume. Consume. We must consume vast quantities!” And he’d cackle. As a boy I thought he was funny. Looking back, he seems prophetic.
My late Uncle Hal had a few comedic saws he’d always pull out, usually after few beers.
In one of his routines he would rub his palms together and say, “Consume. Consume. Consume. We must consume vast quantities!” And he’d cackle.As a boy I thought he was funny. Looking back, he seems prophetic.
Today, our economy is addicted to consumption as much as it is addicted to oil.
We consume so much stuff our houses can’t even hold it all. An entire “self-storage” industry has sprung up around our consumption addiction. Acres of metal boxes, row on row, have sprung up in the last decade.
According to the Self Storage Association — no, I didn’t make that up — storage is now a $20 billion-a-year industry occupying 2.2 billion square feet across the country. The industry growth chart looks like a ski jump. In 1985, the association says the U.S. had 6,600 storage units. In 2007 we had just shy of 60,000.By comparison, the rest of the whole world has 6,000 such units.
And it’s not as if our homes have been getting smaller. The National Association of Home Builders notes the average home in 1970 was 1,400 square feet. In 2004, the average home had ballooned to 2,330 square feet.
And then the nation suddenly woke up and realized we can’t really afford those bigger homes. We paid for them through finagled mortgages that have led to the highest foreclosure rates since the Great Depression. RealtyTrac Inc. says U.S. foreclosures filings jumped almost 80 percent in 2007, to 2.2 million.
So, what’s Washington’s answer to this disaster and the ensuing rrr, re, reces, ah, “economic downturn”?Spend more! Go. Buy. Consume. Don’t worry. Go shopping.
Never mind President Bush’s proposed $3.1 trillion budget contains a record $410 billion deficit.
Never mind the national debt, what we taxpayers owe total, stands at a record $9.2 trillion — that’s $79,000 per taxpayer.
Never mind the Federal Reserve says consumer debt — not including those mortgages we can’t afford — has grown from $210 billion in 2003 to a projected $255 billion in 2007.Forget all that.
Last week, Bush signed a $168 billion economic-stimulus package handing out tax rebates of up to $1,200 going to poor and middle-class families, incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and some bailouts for the mortgage industry.
Rep. John Tierney, D-Beverly, stopped by the CNC offices a couple weeks ago to explain the negotiations surrounding the spend-now, pay-later package.
To his credit, he noted the package should be only the first of two steps.
The second step would involve less appetizing things like ending Bush’s $1.7 trillion in tax cuts and investing more in education and in the nation’s infrastructure.Good luck.
Essentially, Congress and Bush have given us dessert first and saved the spinach for later.
Already Arizona Sen. John McCain is running to the right on the Bush tax cuts, saying they should be permanent — although he opposed them when Bush first proposed them, back before he was running for president, back when he could still tell the truth.
The fact is we have some tough choices ahead. Beyond the debate over tax cuts vs. debt, we have to fashion a new economy. One that relies on investment in new industry and technology more — short-term pain for long-term gain — and on pure consumption less.
If not, our debt will consume us and we can all start living in those self-storage units, giving the name literal meaning.
Dan Mac Alpine is senior editor of the Beverly (Mass.) Citizen.