Economic recovery is slow and consumer confidence wavers. What’s going on? I believe it has to do with our collective expectation that economic recovery means returning to the way it was a few years ago, and, hopefully, that will not happen.
Let us recall that the illusion of economic prosperity was fueled by consumers willing to take on enormous debt loads for things they could not afford and did not need. It was not only the availability of unethically packaged mortgages, it was also the marketing driven belief that if it was new, improved, trendy and available, you deserved to have it. That goes for everything from granite counter tops to toothpaste and everything in between, especially if it was electronic.
Too many corporate, media and political leaders cannot imagine an economically healthy nation that would be any different from that, and are confused about why those consumers and that kind of consumption are so late in returning. What happened to the efficacy of our marketing skills?
Something is changing in American society. With any luck it will be a change toward a society that does not feel compelled to be the richest or most powerful nation on earth, is cognizant of it’s obligation to be stewards of the natural and economic environment respecting the past but committed to endowing future generations with good things, and focussed on education and health as primary resources to be nurtured.
I would like to think that the American public has gained a new respect for the idea of the commonweal and a commitment to work together for it. I would like to think that, but I don’t because it would require a recognition that what is good for the collective welfare of the nation is not the same thing as the sum of what appears to be good for each person acting in his or her own self interest, or even in the interests of those closest to them. Moreover, it would require a recognition that it is not an either/or proposition. Self interest and the interests of the community live in creative tension, but popular political rhetoric tries to make them separate, unequal and irreconcilable.
We cannot return to the illusory prosperity of the recent past. What lies ahead remains unknown. We will not glide into that future on blades of wisdom and good sense. We will lurch into it with all the grace of the gangling, petulant, adolescent people that we are. God help us.
PS I say this as one whose own retirement well being depends, in large part, on the performance of the stock market.