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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

week 1 resources

Week 1 Resources: here are links to a number of interesting articles concerning the economic state of our nation and world. -- an article on race, poverty, and globalization. Author sets forth the common argument that the world is only becoming a better place for those who already live the good life. The poor and destitute, on the other hand (which he speaks of especially in terms of race), are getting poorer and poorer. -- in its own words, this article examines “how the globalization of the economy undermines the quality of life in the United States.” Says some things about fewer and fewer corporations controlling more and more of the world’s resources (Erin). -- reviews a book about the growing inequality that has resulted from various global economic trends. -- psychologists’ perspective on why people spend money the way they do…this will be especially interesting to those of us looking at what drives American consumerism. -- article by Bill Moyers with interesting and helpful figures on wealth distribution in other countries. -- Argues that consumerism, driven (it is argued) by capitalism, contributes to all kinds of environmental and waste problems. For our purposes, there are some interesting thoughts on “tactics that capitalists use to generate consumerism.” There may be some links concerning impulse buying and how certain marketing techniques drive consumerism (Mike). -- interesting article about “Black America” (author’s phrase), conspicuous consumption, and white supremacy. Thought it might be particularly interesting to Paul. -- an article discussing the spending habits of two economic powerhouses—America and Japan. -- discusses “the real factors behind the American economy,” as in why it dominates the world. Seems fairly simple and non-scholarly, but it may be helpful info. -- argues that global economic disparity fuels violence, hatred, and acts of terror. This one also seems fairly simplistic and doesn’t back up all its assumptions, but it's worth a look.

I’ll add more analysis soon, but here are some resources for you to check out.