Governments get elected by increasing perceived living standards – how rich we feel we are.

For the last 30 years they’ve done this by encouraging us to buy more and more crap through debt – mortgaging council houses to ‘get on the property ladder’, replacing student grants with loans, and massive expansion of credit and store cards.

Now the economy is finally readjusting to take account of our massive public and personal debts, a generation is finding they can no longer afford the material goods they’ve been led to believe they have a right to. And they’re angry.

Doesn’t anyone GET IT?

(We really need to rediscover ways to measure and value our worth and happiness other than the size of our TVs…)

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  • JonG

    Joe, you’re spot on that the youth resentment is about an unfulfilled desire to consume, in search of happiness, but this not the fault of governments.

    This is the fault of TV, film and popular music, and most probably the corporations behind them.

    Whether it’s Bruno Mars telling us how much he want to be a billionaire, the Fresh Prince in his Bel Air mansion, or any number of popstars showing us around their “crib” on MTV, the message is the same – consumer more, it’s what life is for!

    • Hi Jon!

      I totally agree with you about the intense marketing efforts corporations put into encouraging consumption*, but then that’s what we’d expect them to do. Governments, on the other hand, have encouraged the growth of personal credit to unsustainable levels. After all – _wanting_ a big TV is only half the story; you have to be enabled to get it on credit (or, rarely these days, that thing called Ca$h).

      Here I’m essentially trying to argue that governments presided over the growth of credit (personal and national) quite happily** because it gave an ^impression^ of increasing living standards and tended to return them to power. Sadly much of it wasn’t actually underpinned real economic growth or productivity gains, as we all now know.


      *Either through direct advertising or sponsoring the entertainment industry you mention.
      **Deliberately or not? I don’t know… But every postwar government has implicitly bought into the consumerist agenda.

  • (For what it’s worth I’m not a ‘zero-growther’… I *do* believe that economic growth is an achievable and laudable policy aim. But that growth must come from productivity gains, technological advancement, and full, sustainable accounting of natural resources – – not by the creation of credit bubbles or under-valuing natural resources.

    For instance, you can argue that our fossil fuels have been massively undervalued, given a) their finite nature, and b) the long-term damage their combustion does to the carbon balance. But for most of our history using them, their price has only reflected demand and the cost of extracting them – not the external cost to the environment or the opportunity cost of replacing them with alternatives (which we’re just finding out).

    I also recognise that financial services – the means to efficiently allocate capital to investments – play an essential role in human activity. But they have to be correctly regulated, given that markets operate imperfectly at best.