Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/7/06

First, let me STRONGLY suggest that you read Juliet Schor's "The Overspent American". This book is immensely accessible, thoroughly researched, and mind-bending in its aim. I liken it to "The Matrix" where everyone goes about their business not knowing that they are really on life-support wasting away in a pod in some giant machine.

The primary point of the book is that we, as consumers (and breathers), identify with a lifestyle "reference" group that lives well above our means. She has discovered that this perceived reference group continues to "succeed" to a greater extent than we do. She states that "the sociological trend was the upward shift in consumer aspirations and the vertical stretching out of reference groups." The result is not just a deeply-felt sense of failure, but a real perception that it takes so much more money (and stuff) to make ends meet and be happy. The reference groups commonly identified with by the average middle and upper middle class American has an income that is three, four, or five times his or her own.

The statistics supporting this reference group hypothesis are many. Here are some samples. In 1975, the "good life" meant a vacation home (19% of respondents), a swimming pool (14%), a lot of money (38%), and a happy marriage (84%). In 1991, the "good life" meant a vacation home (35%), a swimming pool (29%), a lot of money (55%), and a happy marriage (77%). I guess we traded in our happy marriage for a swimming pool.

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