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Be Patriotic: Go Shopping!

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The dollar is in free-fall. Worldwide, equities plunge, sending stocks plummeting in the worst single day for global markets since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, according to the Financial Times. Over $120 billion of equity vanished into thin air in one day in England, $480 billion in Europe. All signs point to recession; Adrian Mowat, chief strategist for JPMorgan, says the only question is how long and deep the recession will be.

In response, Congress and the President race to pass a stimulus package. Obama says, "We could be sliding into an extraordinary recession unless we stimulate the economy immediately." Speaking of the global market disaster, Hillary suggests hiring people to move towards a green economy.

But just how are we to stimulate the economy? The President's plan, based on "trickle down" economic theories, includes tax breaks for corporations and rebate checks to encourage Americans to spend, spend, and spend more money. Others argue that tax cuts only shift the wealth upward and increase the deficit. Even Bush's own Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before Congress that "putting money into the hands of households and firms that would spend it in the near term" would be more effective than other short-term fixes or tax rebates for the wealthy. But people who don't have money will not buy just for the sake of buying. Many Americans say they will use the tax credit to pay bills.

We live in a land whose national religion is capitalism, money is our god, and shopping malls are our churches. We are encouraged to buy, buy, buy, even if we have to borrow to do so, and told that our shopping creates jobs and boosts the lagging economy. Following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, President Bush didn’t ask us to find love in our hearts and work together to change a troubled world. Instead, he urged Americans to go shopping as an act of patriotism. Is it truly our patriotic duty to support corporations and line the pockets of their billionaire executives with our hard-earned pittance?

Consumerism begets consumerism, and countries are judged not by their quality of life, but by their Gross Domestic Product. A far cry from "a penny saved is a penny earned" and "waste not, want not."

I have enough stuff! Too much stuff! What shall I do? Take it to the dump and buy more. I must! To support the economy - the Chinese toymakers, the apple computers, the automobile manufacturers, I must continue to buy and thus, to discard.

But wait! Our landfills are filling up! So are the oceans, with floating garbage dumps like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists. We will soon need a new planet to contain our garbage. Do we really need a new model of car or computer every other year?

Many years ago we created the computer age. This created a need. It created jobs in tech support and software development. But it also created computer dumps as we race to buy newer, faster, larger models.

We are pushed to buy useless, over-priced trinkets no one wants or needs. The annual Christmas shopping spree leaves many Americans in debt. A poster I saw a long time ago defines prosperity: To spend money you didn’t earn, to buy things you don’t need, in order to impress people you don’t like." Do we really need to buy just for the sake of buying?

Hillary's desire to move towards a greener economy is to be commended. We need to create an economy based on need and not on consumerism's "shop till you drop" mentality. One example: we need to find new ways of recycling plastics or find ways to substitute plastics with other, renewable substances, so our landfills don't fill up with toxic plastic bags and water bottles.

Nouriel Roubini, a leading NYU economist, says "We're facing the risk of a systemic financial crisis." He's right. Our economy stands on its head. In order to move the economy continually forward, we have to buy and spend. But this goes against resource conservation, re-using, and re-cycling. Everything gets bigger. Small businesses are swallowed by corporate giants. In our effort to sustain the economy, we're depleting global resources.

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Yvona Fast is an author, freelance writer, food columnist, editor, researcher and speaker. Her first book is a career guide for individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning disability. She is currently working on her second book, My (more...)
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