by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
June 13, 2007
SAVE YOUR MONEY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In a recent press conference, President George W. Bush offered this idea as a solution to our $233-billion trade deficit problem with China: "Another way to address it is for [the Chinese] to convert their economy from one of savers to consumers."
His words set off alarm bells in my mind.
Shopping as salvation is a familiar theme for Mr. Bush. Like most conservatives, he takes the conventional wisdom of the time and turns it into Word received from God. Just after Sept. 11, 2001 he said, "We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don't conduct business, where people don't shop." For the President, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
On this, as with so many things, I beg to differ. My favorite commercial on television right now is the one where the guy from ING Direct, the Internet bank, drives around the country pointing out that paying big bucks for inner peace or tiny designer handbags is foolish.
"Save your money," he says, as he drives down a coastal highway in his '62 orange Chevy convertible, his hair blowing in the wind.
The commercial resonates with me. I am a saver by nature, even though I don't have much money to save. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I save it with ING).
I believe in saving money. I learned that value from my father, who owned a small business. He squirreled away his money in socks and in holes in the wall.
In fact, right after he died, my brother, my mother and I searched the house thoroughly in the hopes of finding more of his stash. We turned out the pockets of his sports coats and took all the drawers out of the dresser. We even moved the beds.
We never did find anything. By that time, certificates of deposit had paid out as much as 14 percent annually, and my father, like many of his generation, was happily rolling over his money. In fact, on the day of my father's memorial service, his condo, in a joint account, rolled over more than $1 million. It seemed like a fitting tribute.
As a first-generation American with peasant roots deep in the ways of the Old Country, by not trusting banks or politicians my father was acting out a script written deep in his genetic code. He may have come from a different culture, but he was echoing Billie Holiday's "God help the child who's got his own."
America used to be a country full of hard-working, frugal people like my father. Many things caused that to change - the installment plan was invented in the Twenties, and people started buying stocks on margin. The ensuing Great Depression certainly put a damper on trusting banks, although the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was supposed to cure that. Was it the Fifties, with its emphasis on buying and furnishing the perfect home? When did keeping up with the Jones become a national religion? When did people start believing that the guy who died with the most toys won?
In the Sixties, young people rebelled against a consumer culture that was turning us into creatures of endless, remorseless desire who were squandering our future on tacky, soon-to-be-out-of-date consumer goods.
It's only gotten worse since then. What was good for General Motors may have been good for the country - if you define the country as banks and credit card companies. But it was never good for our souls.
Now the credit card companies own us, lock, stock, barrel - and souls. Credit card debt in this country is at astounding levels, as is credit card interest. A few years ago, the government had to pass a law making bankruptcy - before, a shameful thing - more difficult to achieve, since so many more people wanted to go into it.
There's good debt and bad debt. Debt that creates a factory - jobs, a product people need, a community - is productive. Debt incurred taking a vacation in Mexico is not. Imagine all the good things we could have done with the $500 billion or so we've spent in Iraq.
A country full of gratification-seeking consumers isn't our only problem. Our country acts the same way, spending money it doesn't have. That's why China holds $233 billion of our trade deficit markers.
In the end, it comes down to trust. Trust the overlords (the Bushes, politicians, banks, credit card companies, television commercials, etc.) and face ruin. Trust yourself and you will be prepared for every kind of disaster. If we run out of oil someday soon, a vegetable garden, a root cellar and shelves full of home-canned goods will make a lot more sense than a credit card bill you cannot pay for goods and services that are no longer available.
My father's values used to be scorned and called "old fashioned," but they look pretty good right now.
So ignore Mr. Bush and hope the Chinese do, too. Instead, listen to the man in the orange Chevy and save your money. God bless the child that's got his own.
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at email@example.com.