Thrift = disaster?

Last weekend, I read When Consumers Cut Back: A Lesson From Japan in the New York Times. I was hoping it would be about the benefits of thrift, but the article starts off a little differently:

As recession-wary Americans adapt to a new frugality, Japan offers a peek at how thrift can take lasting hold of a consumer society, to disastrous effect. The economic malaise that plagued Japan from the 1990s until the early 2000s brought stunted wages and depressed stock prices, turning free-spending consumers into misers and making them dead weight on Japan’s economy.

Wow – “dead weight on the economy?” Too often we forget that the economy is meant to serve us, and not the other way around. How do we reconcile a society that demands ever-increasing consumption, yet is running into environmental and human limits? Less interest in cars is a good thing, not a bad thing, yet the article disapprovingly states:

… only 25 percent of Japanese men in their 20s wanted a car, down from 48 percent in 2000, contributing to the slump in sales.

There is no easy answer, and the economic pain is real. That said, there are plenty of jobs that need doing – they just aren’t the jobs that we’re currently set up to do. Let’s think about services, not stuff; more teachers, less cars; designers who make thoughtful products that last; repair, not obsolescence. Trying to prop up the failing status quo of an out of control consumer society is harmful, foolish, and destined for failure.

To help us keep the economy our servant and not our master, we need to measure more useful things: GNP is supremely flawed as a measure of success. Measuring contentment is more difficult than measuring dollars, but isn’t it much more important?

5 Responses to “Thrift = disaster?”

  1. Scott says:

    So glad to see a posting – it has 5 months since the last posting – I was beginning to think there was no more life to this site. Minimalism is an awsome topic and there is the potential for this to be a fantastic place for inspiring ideas. Thanks for the post. Scott

  2. Ezra Hilyer says:

    Hey, glad to see also that there is action on this site! Hope to see more in the future (keep up the good work!)

  3. Minimalist J says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve been trying to do a little bit of writing every morning, so we’ll see if that helps with more frequent updates – I have several posts started and in the queue.

  4. Joe Walmach says:

    “Let’s think about services, not stuff; more teachers, less cars…”

    Exactly! Our government’s continual propping up of the auto industry is insane. We simply don’t need all these cars! Ever notice that the majority of commercials are about cars? I’ll bet you can’t get through on TV show without a car commercial today. (with the exception of children shows.)

    Anyway, good post here. We’d be much better off with more repairmen and less salesmen for our products.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Interesting post. If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that just because the economy as we new it (largely represented by consumerism, out of control spending, and debt, etc.) is hurting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should rush to fix it just to get it back to the WAY it WAS.

    When the “cash for clunkers” came out, a big red flag went up in my mind. What that did was encourage the very same transaction and attitude that got people into trouble in the first place. If “they” really wanted what was best, we would be encouraged to start making wise choices by buying used vehicles and waiting as long as we can to save money to pay cash for our next vehicle. For example, start saving the money each month that you would be spending on a new car payment until you can afford a decent, reliable, used vehicle for cash.

    But, what do we do instead? We actually 1) encourage people to get into needless debt (by obtaining a new car loan). 2) Feed people’s already over-active, consumerist desire for a nice, new – anything. 3) All this to poor loads of more money into a certain company. I don’t think helping a bunch of people to make what I consider to be unwise decisions just to help put money into other people’s pockets is a good idea.

    Now, I don’t keep up with politics, the latest trends, or all these types of things, but I do know a thing or two about discipline and making some smart choices with money. Just between you and me, and I’m not naming any names, but perhaps, just perhaps, some businesses or industries or people need to learn from their mistakes (sometimes the hard way) and learn how to make better decisions and conduct better business without coming up with ways that will benefit them at others’ expense. Just my rant. 🙂

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