As the world waits with bated breath for the raising of the U.S. debt ceiling, debt is in the news globally. Slowly and painfully the world has recognized that the ferocious economic growth that became the promise of the future was made almost entirely possible by debt. Capital markets have become increasingly fueled by creative investment strategies that are heavily dependent on a mortgaged tomorrow instead of real labor in real time, when that tomorrow never came a new future loomed on the horizon.
While Americans are drowning in debt, living in homes with “underwater” mortgages, or in rented apartments because they lost their homes, spending is not top of mind. Even with Americans unemployed or living in fear of losing their jobs with each announcement of layoffs, the Government, Wall Street and Madison Avenue are counting on citizens to shake it off and start spending. American Express was “newly cool” when they partnered with Facebook to get deals to their cardholders in the moment so they would spend, spend, spend. The co-founder of Twitter has staked his next billions on Square, which enables small businesses to charge credit cards by iPhone. Any potential barriers are being stripped away to get folks swiping those credit cards to Save America.
But America and the world are credit fatigued. We are not even remotely capable of spending our way to economic safety. Is it a dark and barren landscape we face, or is this the turning point toward a new dream?
Transformational change that was started by the environmental sustainability movement is leading us, slowly, to a new world order. Saving, conserving, reusing is replacing spending and conspicuous consumption. Frugal is the new Black.
I recently went to the SF Goodwill and found a custom made pair of jeans that sold online for $280 for $5.39, and a Tahari blazer, barely worn, for $13.29. And I could hold my head high because I was spending green and looking good doing it. It said so on the poster in the window. Shopping here was the environmentally conscious thing to do. Finally the homeless and I had something in common;, where we shopped.
Sustainability is about a whole system way of thinking. Many traditional cultures hold this value very strongly. For example, in their councils, the Iroquois and other Native American groups required that each decision be evaluated by asking “What impact will this have on the seventh generation from today?” On the other hand, the world is full of the ruins of civilizations that died because they sacrificed the value of sustainability to the pressures (and greed) of the present – they overgrazed, overfarmed and generally overexploited their surroundings and their people.
The World may have become too much. The pause button is crossing more people’s minds than ever.
I left behind 25 years of stuff and kept just enough to fit in a trunk. It stems from having to get rid of my mother’s possessions which even included things that she had kept of my grandmother’s, who had died 20 years before. I vowed to never do that to my children. Letting go of all the things was a blessing. Everything you hold on to then has a purpose and a meaning. You ask yourself for each thing you bring to your home is it worth the time and space it will take up.
HowCast’s Idioit’s Guide to Minimalism
There are things our government can do to rebuild this battered nation. When in a Depression look for lessons from the last one. Roosevelt saw that the size of chronic unemployment would take federal government intervention, a Civilian Conservation Corps to turn things around. It was the single most successful public works employment program of the entire New Deal era. Created by an executive order signed by Roosevelt on April 5, 1933, the CCC enjoyed a nine-year life. During that time, it directed the energies of more than three million young men on a tremendous array of conservation and land development projects from Florida to California. By the end of 1935 there were CCC camps in every state in the union, as well as in the Virgin Islands; Puerto Rico, and then-territories of Alaska and Hawaii.
So what’s the modern-day version? What infrastructure could be built in this era. We need so many things; like an educational system that will deliver the well-trained minds to fuel our retirement, or energy sufficiency to improve the security of our nation. Crumbling levees even offer projects reminiscent of the “New Deal” bridges that were built.