Thursday, December 16, 2010

'On the 12th day of Christmas, my shylock came to me...'

"People are sick of saving. It's not fun."
Woman quoted in Los Angeles Times article on shoppers who are queuing up at stores like Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton.

An aptly named twitpic showing Joe Vitale's long-time squeeze, Nerissa Oden, enjoying what's described as a "30 ounce filet at Vitale Cigar Bar" made me mindful once again of how uncomfortable I am with grand-luxe advertising this holiday season: all those Beemers and Mercedes under the tree, festooned with ribbons and bows; all those gaudy diamonds and other jewels that are supposed to make "her" love you forever. If I see prissy Jane Seymour one more time, telling me in that snooty, pretentious accent to "keep my wallet ope...," no, wait, I misspeak, I
meant "keep my heart open," I swear I'm going to dig up Christian Brando and hire him to go have a little chat with the woman. (And let me add peevishly that old Husky-eyes was never as beautiful as she seemed to think she was.)

I'm not saying or even implying that we're supposed to wallow in poverty and deprivation. Nor, for the record, do I see this as a political schism that supposedly pits Republican profligacy and indifference against Democratic compassion and reserve; I'm quite sure the Kennedy and Kerry clans (among many other wealthy Dems) will be soaking up the Christmas joy at their respective compounds. What it comes down to for me is that even though the recession is over (yeah, right), I just don't think it's a good time for us to be celebrating extravagance; and Christmas or no Christmas, it would be nice if advertisers of luxury goods (of all goods, for that matter) showed a bit more sensitivity to the fact that so many of their target demographic's friends and neighborscertainly a lot of their countrymenare without jobs, behind on their mortgages, living from week to week, hoping against hope that "something will change, something good will happen."

What irks me even more is that a lot of these luxury purchases are not going to be bought outright; they're going to be paid for with plastic or collateralized bank loans. Millions of Americans who can't afford to give glitzy gifts will cave to the SAP (that's "seasonal atmospheric pressure") to give them anyway. That will include folks at the upper strata of national income, the only difference being that they'll be operating at much higher levels of debt, making purchases that consist entirely of vanity taxes, financing a $100,000 car or a $25,000 necklace instead of the pedestrian $25,000/$500 counterparts in which the rest of us trade. So we have still more debt pyramided atop the insane amount of debt we've already compiled as a nation. And why do we do this?

Because, as the epigram above this post says, saving "isn't fun." (Can't you just picture a cranky kindergartner grimacing and saying that?)

Lord knows, we Americans love our fun! Notice, too, that we say such things as if for decades now we've been hoarding every last penny, living monkish lives of utter self-denial, and we're just sick of it, do you hear me?, sick of it...when in fact the U.S. savings rate has long been on a downturn, has in recent times dipped to zero or below, and remains one of the most meager in the industrialized world.

I ask you: Is this really helpful? Is this what we mean by "consumer confidence"? Going out and spending more money we don't have on things we don't need?

...And a happy, happy to all of you, too!


Anonymous said...

If you get ticked off when people spend big money in conspicuous, vainglorious displays of consumption ("Hey losers! Look at me! I'm a player!"), then your head really ought to explode when you find out the details in the tax deal the lame-duck Senate just passed.

In summary, really wealthy folks - decamillionaires and above - can set up Generation Skipping Trust Funds and give their grandkids (but not their kids) millions of dollars tax-free. Instead of collecting the 35% or 55% tax; the rate drops to 0%. So the Kennedeys, Kerrys, Bushes and Edwards of the world will be able to set up their grandkids with millions of dollars in Trust Fund Assets without paying any pesky taxes. In exchange for this, the non-working Joe gets 13 more months of unemployment.
Not exactly the Hope and change we were expecting.

roger o'keefe said...

It may surprise you to hear that I largely agree with what you write here. This is not the time to go out and blow the wad on frivolous gifts, just because we've gotten a little bit of good news lately about the economy. As if we have learned nothing from our past mistakes. I do believe that stupid consumption helped get us into this pickle, certainly when it comes to "plastic abuse", if you want to call it that on the part of Joe and Jane Doe. Where I differ with you is the implication that people who are more fortunate are supposed to feel squeamish about their good fortune and live as if they were hourly workers in fast food. By now you know my feelings on that. I've done well and I've worked long and hard for where I am and see no reason to apologize to anyone for it. The problem we often have in this country is that too many people who don't have the means feel they're entitled to live like I do. They get in over their heads and can't pay the freight.

renee said...

You know what else isn't fun?
Declaring bankruptcy.

Louis said...

@Roger O'Keefe~spoken like a true nouveau riche. The wealthy, as opposed to the merely rich (or let's just say the very well off), are not prone to open display of wealth, considering it unseemingly and quite common. So, in this you would most likely differ from say, a Kennedy or a Rockefeller, in your philosophy.

Yet, beyond this, Mr. O'Keefe, is the undeniable fact of mortality. Work hard and you will be able to afford that luxury box or golden urn because in the end, you are as equal to the pauper in the field as the grandest ceo at Forest Lawn...and you will be utterly faceless and forgotten eternally. Unless of course you are Calvinist. Are you Calivinst, Mr. O'Keefe? Well, then, I suppose that would be a whole different class of argument.

Great post, BTW, Mr. Salerno

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Mike Cane said...

Some balm for your soul:

Buy Their Stuff, Sell Your Soul
Impulse Delay

Hahahaha, the CAPCHA for this is "chided." Apt!

Steve Salerno said...

Mike: Good stuff (you ascetic, anti-progress Marxist, you!). Thanks for posting.