Friday, October 07, 2005

week 1 analysis

Main Complaint…
--The most consistent complaint concerned the widening economic gap between rich and poor. Not a new issue by any means, most of those I read either assumed or argued that the problem is systemic and particularly American. One article pointed out that there are 64 new millionaires in the Silicon Valley every day, while poor people in our country and in other countries—mostly people of color—are getting poorer day by day. This brings up another consistent emphasis—the close relationship between economic equality and race. Most of the articles mentioned something about this reality. One in particular argued that our culture has bought into the myth of black conspicuous consumption—the idea that black people are poorer because they spend all their money on frivolous items like expensive sneakers (citing Bill Cosby as a contributor to the widespread popularity of this myth).
--Most of those I read maintained a fairly negative attitude toward globalization, seeing it as responsible for or contributing to the inequality that is already so much of a problem.

Importance of Assumptions…
--As in all debates, assumptions—particularly political ones—reigned supreme. Since most of the authors were commenting on the specific issue of economic inequality, their political assumptions were implied rather than stated. But whatever else they may have disagreed about, virtually all of them based their arguments on the positive value (“supremacy” might not be too much of a stretch) of democracy overagainst other government models. I suppose this is to be expected since most of the authors were American, but it reminds us that at some level we should probably address the role of political assumptions on economic conclusions.

Materialism, Spending Habits, and Happiness…
--Resource #4 was all about the relationship between what we spend and how much happiness we find. They concluded that the amount of money and possessions wasn’t a consistent barometer of happiness or unhappiness. Less materialistic people were generally happier, but materialistic people are also happy as long as “their acquisitive lifestyle doesn't conflict with more soul-satisfying pursuits.”
--Yet people still think that having stuff is going to improve their lives in every possible way. One example was cited of a man who said he desperately wanted a swimming pool so he could improve his relationship with his moody 13-year-old daughter. This would seem to back up the line of research suggests that insecurity--both financial and emotional--lies at the heart of consumeristic cravings (still resource #4). A man doesn’t feel properly equipped to engage in a significant relationship with his daughter (who is a complete mystery to him and probably a threat to his sense of self-worth as a competent leader), so he buys her what he supposes she wants, shortcutting the path to relational harmony (not to mention love).

This is a bit long, so I’ll wrap it up. I wanted to include two short lists (both direct quotes):

--Several important tactics that capitalists use to generate consumerism are:
Creating new psychological "needs" in people
Stimulating impulse buying (see below)
Creating and marketing fads and styles to spur temporary "usefulness" of material goods (or social obsolescence)
Making short-lived or hard-to-fix goods; many products are designed to have uneconomically short lives, with the intention of forcing consumers to repurchase too frequently. This is technical obsolescence, often called planned obsolescence.

--There are several key reasons why the American economy has dominated the world:
1) The abundance of natural resources in America
2) The relatively low population density of America
3) The development of a strong domestic market in America
4) The possession of the majority of the world’s gold (by the 1930s America possessed 75% to 80% of all the mined gold in the world due to gold deposits in America)
5) American investment in foreign countries higher than foreign investment in the US
6) The adoption of the US dollar as the international reserve currency
Of these reasons that the American economy is strong, reasons 5 and 6 are in jeopardy of being changed by current international events and international events that are likely to occur in the future unless military force is used to prevent them from happening. Reason 4 is no longer particularly relevant now that our currency is not directly backed by gold anymore, but fact number 4 played a strong role in the development of item number 6.
Hope some of this helps. Feel free to be totally honest about what doesn’t.

4 Comments:

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At 4:38 PM, Blogger E-Dubya said...

Michael
Hey thanks for your feedback. I am a bit confused, too. I like your stuff, though. I am wondering if our group needs to meet weekly to put stuff on our wiki. I don't see a link to Paul, though. Did I tell you that N.T. Wright is my FAVORITE author? We will get along well! Also.... hint: to avoid "spam" comments change the comments section of your blog and it will filter them out (and can even send you an email update of recent comments!!!)

 
At 3:24 AM, Blogger Justin Baker said...

Michael,

ARE THEY SERIOUS? “Most of those you read either assumed that the problem is systemic and particularly American.” I offer these thoughts and critiques of mine in order to stimulate conversation and strengthen our overall project. Thanks for all of your work. Now please allow me explain my capital LETTERS in like manner.

SYSTEMIC: I think that the “system” – government (at all levels), and culture (conspicuous consumption, etc.) – is partially to blame, but to say it’s only systemic, I have a problem with that. You see, I think that personal responsibility needs to be factored in here somewhere. People can only play the victim card so far for so long before they begin to victimize themselves.

PARTICULARLY AMERICAN: I am NOT arguing against the “widening gap between rich and poor.” I am arguing that this truth is a reality in our WORLD, not just our country. Look at the corruption that is occurring in so many countries around the world today. Some people, those in power, are getting rich while so many others are getting poorer and poorer. This is not a coincidence. The poor are getting poorer because the rich are getting richer. Power in this country doesn’t necessarily take on the same nature as in so many countries in Africa and South America (corrupt government); it may look like the skin color or political ideology of the majority.

ASSUMPTIONS: They really do “make an ass out of you and me,” as the saying goes. You did a great job analyzing the importance of assumptions. Some sort of dealing on this topic definitely needs to be included in our final project/wiki.

WHAT & WHY WE BUY: Good story out of resource #4. Another good resource on this topic (which I’ll put as 1 of my 10 next week) is the book “Liquid Church” by Peter Ward.

RESOURCES: You got resources from a good variety of sources – news, science, psychology, and economists. I think resource #10 was wrong; I went to the website and it’s a non-profit organization that gets Israeli young people and Palestinian young people together to build so common bonds. I perused the site and I didn’t find anything on American economists. Also, if you could make the sources links so I (and others) can just click on them instead of copying and pasting into the browser, that’s be great. I’m not exactly sure how to do it, or even if mine do it, but it’d be a little bit easier.

YOUR THOUGHTS ON MY BLOG: You were right on with the first comments: I did sound kind of confusing; that’s because I was a bit confused. I think one of the joys of this class and these assignments (resources, analyses, critiques, wikis) is that we get to work through and refine our thinking on these issues. It’s easy to hold an opinion. It’s a completely different animal to assess that opinion in light of a myriad of resources, especially when one is doing this on the Internet for the entire world to see. So, I was a bit confused and a bit tentative. I think that’s what led to your misread of me. In terms of setting you straight, I’ll do that at another time. :)
Anyway, I think that you did a great job gathering resources and with the analysis. Next time, maybe just one sentence more explanation on the resources. And thank you for the work you did in contributing to the wiki for the week. Good job. I’m glad to be in your group.

-Justin

 

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