minutia press.
Need vs want

With all the economic news, I've been particular keen to hear what people think of the state of things: how we got here and where we might go.

On NPR this morning I heard this story, which argues that no matter what we do, it is going to be tough on the guilty and the innocent. The story went on to point out that the amount of money we as a nation owe has risen to our yearly GDP. This was the case before only in 1929 before the crash.

So I've been reflecting on the nature of borrowing and the kinds of messages I heard as I grew up as compared with the messages we have heard over the past 10 years or so.

My mom was born in the year of the depression, and I have attributed her careful spending of money as an artifact of being a "depression baby". But I learned from her example, and have all my life tried not to waste anything: time, money, water, any resource. I borrowed money only when it came to providing something necessary for myself or my family, and I always had the plan and inclination to pay it back expeditiously. But there are certainly times when my "want" exceeds my "need", even for something as capricious as chocolate. I understand what that is about and it also seems a part of human nature, this idea of want exceeding need.

I think of what it took to bring the iron curtain down. It wasn't so much by might or by power, but by economics that things changed. People always want a better life for themselves. But look at what is happening to us now. The notion of getting something quickly now at the expense of paying for it later may seem like the American Way, but we can see now the problems with that approach. Economics may make us into a nation that thinks more about what we need than what we want, and that may turn out to be a good thing.

I'm capitalism's biggest fan, as it nurtures the competitive side of our psyche and drives us to achieve bigger and better things. But we have fooled some people into thinking that possessing a thing is the same as having earned it. Optimists are seeing this as a time when we can reset our values and focus on what is important. I want to be one of them.