Posts Tagged ‘economic prosperity’

Consuming our way out of poverty?

An economist and writer at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas tell us household consumption — not income — is the best measurement of “financial well-being.” The incomes of the top 20 percent of US households may be 15 times greater than the bottom 20 percent, but the top group’s consumer spending is only four times greater than the bottom group’s. And on a per person basis, the richest household only outspends the poorest by 2.1. to 1 (because richer households are larger on average). Writing in the Sunday New York Times, the bankers explain:

To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households.

So there you have it. Because nearly all of the poorest households have all or most of the “conveniences we take for granted,” they really aren’t that poor. In fact, the bankers tell us, “the abstract, income-based way in which we measure the so-called poverty rate no longer applies to our society.” By their definition, the truly poor are those who don’t have the modern conveniences nearly everyone else has. In which case, that odd millionaire couple that opts out of a consumerist lifestyle would be poor. They say no to the so-called conveniences because they don’t want to add to the human and ecological toll our consumer economy extracts.

The bankers praise “a capitalist system that has for generations been lifting American living standards.” Yes, if you define standard of living by material things. We certainly do have more material things in the average rich and poor households. And I suppose that means all of us — rich and poor — are happier than generations before us? And Earth has infinite capacity to lift the world’s material living standards for generations to come? Just wondering.