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Consumerism and Debt

In generations past, discussions about what to buy or how to invest would have ceased in the evenings, inside the safeguards of home. But with the advent of television and the creation of the Internet, the market has moved into our homes, allowing advertisers uninterrupted opportunity to entice us with “the next, newest thing.” Production has given way to consumption. Below are articles and books that discuss how consumerism came to define America, how financial debt weakens our spiritual health, and how our lust for spending erodes our desire for giving.

Articles and Papers

The Truth about Credit Card Debt: Conventional Wisdom Is That We’re All Hooked and Struggling. The Reality Is, in Fact, Quite Different and Less Frightening.
Liz Pulliam Weston. MSN Money, May 8, 2006.
Are Americans suffocating under credit card debt? The vast majority are not, writes personal finance columnist Liz Pulliam Weston, who sets out to correct some common misconceptions about credit card debt in America. While many politicians and journalists frequently cite the statistic that the average American carries more than $8,000 in credit card debt, the truth is actually quite encouraging. Weston points out some enlightening facts: (1) A relatively small population actually has credit card debt (about 55 percent). (2) We don’t really carry that much debt. (3) Although there are a large number of people with serious debt, the average American is doing just fine.

Parakeet Funerals
Sarah Teslik. Certified Financial Planner Board Report, February 26, 2006.
The CEO of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards reports “breathtaking statistics” on how Americans spend their money on unessential products and services. “Americans spend over $34 billion a year on pets, including ... custom made parakeet caskets,” “over $65 billion on illegal drugs, $45 billion on alcohol and $167 billion on smoking-attributable costs.” Teslik concludes that this trend has been created by the newfound ability “to separate consumption from payment on a massive scale.” While the source of the statistics is not given, the information provided truly is startling.

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Madonna’s Epiphany: The Material Girl Concludes after 20 Years That, Yes, It’s All an Illusion
Edna Gundersen. USA Today, April 17, 2003.
These days, Madonna strives to be neither material nor immaterial. After straddling the heights of wealth and celebrity for two decades, the pop diva is on a quest for meaning. And in American Life, that means questioning the impulses behind her own rise to riches.

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Rick Terry. Strategic Investment, June 25, 2003.
The author—a retired private bank executive and financial, investment, and lifestyle consultant—reflects upon the pop lyrics of Madonna and Shania Twain for insight into American financial culture. “The point is that there is a great unspoken knowingness; a guttural, instinctual premonition that, for the idolized, gilded calf of American consumerism ... the gig is up ... Everyone knows except Messrs. Greenspan, Bernanke, and McTeer. Although, I suspect even this trio senses the sea change—late at night when it’s just them and their MTV. Everyone knows it. It’s just that nobody wants the music to stop.”

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