This is a re-print (can call it that if it’s a blog?) from 2010 but with updated charts.
I still think it bears repeating, again:
Today is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year. Let’s not forget what the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” means and its ramifications. For this we turn to Wikipedia:
The philosophy of “keeping up with the Joneses” has widespread effects on society. According to this philosophy, conspicuous consumption occurs when households care about their standard of living in relation to their societal peers.
According to Roger Mason, “the demand for status goods, fueled by conspicuous consumption, has diverted many resources away from investment in the manufacture of more material goods and services in order to satisfy consumer preoccupations with their relative social standing and prestige.”
Social status once depended on one’s family name; however, the rise of consumerism in the United States gave rise to social mobility. With the increasing availability of goods, people became more inclined to define themselves by what they possessed and the subtle quest for higher status accelerated. Conspicuous consumption and materialism have been an insatiable juggernaut ever since. The desire to increase one’s position in the social hierarchy is responsible for much of the social mobility in America. The upward mobility over the past few decades in America is due in part to the large number of women joining the labor force. U.S. women have slowly and steadily increased their participation in the labor force from 46 percent of all women (age 16+) in 1974 to almost 60 percent in 2004.
In addition, the number of college graduates are at an all time high. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of full time college students increased by 33 percent. College enrollment hit a projected record level of 18 million in 2007. Between 2007 and 2016, enrollment is expected to increase by 14 percent. With more people receiving higher levels of education, and more women entering the labor force, the upward mobility in America continues to climb; however, right alongside it has risen the degree to which these people want to consume things which will keep them at the same level in the social hierarchy as their peers.
One area in which “living above one’s means” has caused negative social effects is that of credit card usage. In the first quarter of 2002, total credit debt was $660 billion. By 2005, the total credit card debt had increased to $735 billion. Americas’ average credit card debt in 2007 was $8400 per household. By the end of 2007, consumer debt in America had risen to $2.5 trillion. According to the Federal Reserve, over 40% of households spend more than they earn.
Living in such a consumerist society, the best minds are working to manipulate you into spending your money much like a rat will gladly trade a rock it has found for a shiny one it comes across in its travels:
The flashy sweater is replacing the basic winter coat, jewelry is starting to sparkle again, and the gift card for gasoline is being trumped by the gift card at the mall. Black Friday displays are being loaded with fancier laptops, bigger TVs and deluxe gym sets, though stores acknowledge shoppers will buy only if it’s a good deal.
It can be very difficult to restrain yourself living in a country where we are bombarded with enticements to spend our money on things. For example, the 66% of American families owns three or more televisions and 99% of Americans owned at least one television. For car ownership, out of all the families who own at least one car, the majority of those families own three or more cars. Most interesting is that the amount of debt held by Americans solely to pay for their cars is estimated at about $1 trillion. And in 1997 banks would loan our 89% of a car’s selling price whereas in 2007 that number jumped to 101%!
More fascinating information about how much debt Americans drive around every day may be found at The Market Oracle.
In recent decades, consumer spending has grown to occupy the biggest growth factor of our economy…
…and as a result, so has consumer debt:
Before you buy it… do you really need it? The same thing applies to our Federal Government, too.