Austerity Notes

February 21, 2009

The Atlantic tries to paint a picture of the burgeoning Austerity Japan.  What I think we’ll see more generally, however, is that paragraphs like this

“Japanese shoppers, at home and abroad, account for about half of the global luxury-goods market. But according to a study released last fall by Bain & Company, the luxury market here was expected to shrink by 7 percent in 2008, after falling by 2 percent the previous year.”

are going to be greeted with concern.  Limits, as we all know, are out of the question; the ever-expanding waistline of the “American way of life” is non-negotiable.  If it’s true that the declining demand for luxury goods (and after-hours drinks, apparently) is attributable at least as much to sentiments like these

‘The collapse of the bubble economy in Japan and the “lost decade” of decline that followed left everyone a little wiser. “Japanese consumers were like a sponge,” Chanel’s Sakurai told me. “We absorbed everything, and then we got wrung out. We’re not going to absorb the same things as we used to.” What sells today is value.’

as to general economic downturn, then there may be something there to learn from.  Of course, when the next paragraph defines “value” as Swedish discount outlet stores, I become skeptical.  “Value” and “style” are not the same thing, and I’m a little worried to see The Atlantic come this close to conflating them.  Switching from excessive luxury to discount furniture is a start, but any consumerism of limits is going to need to turn an eye toward products that last if it is to have any value.

***

Meanwhile, Victor Davis Hanson writes about his grandfather during the Depression and tries to cheer us all up.  What he fails to reckon with is that the safety-net of his grandfather’s family and their farm during the Depression years generally does not exist today.  This wasn’t merely nuclear-family fallback; 26 family members on the farm at the height of the Depression, working at a common enterprise.  Any article on this which includes the line “the farm was only 120 acres” is taking something for granted.

What do you do when you don’t have those bonds, or you don’t have that acreage on which you can be somewhat self-sustaining?  I agree with him that we’re not at 1930 yet by any means and we may well never get there.  But the question remains: what is our safety net this time?  Until we’re able to answer that question (and “the government” is not acceptable; setting everything else aside, it’s merely one bullet and by no means a silver one) we’re not at all ready for things getting worse.

***

In my mind, at least, that was all by means of saying that a society which views its purpose as expansion rather than sustainability and sustenance is not prepared for a crisis, or any other moment in which society is truly and totally necessary.

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2 Responses to “Austerity Notes”


  1. My response to the Japan article was more like, “Huh. Cool.” I thought the article made today’s price-conscious shoppers sound saner than the “turning to prostitution to finance their Louis Vuitton habits.”

  2. JL Wall Says:

    Yeah, you have a point there. And I felt the same way for most of it, until the last paragraph or two. Then again, I’m in a pessimistic mood lately.


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