Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hyperconsumption and the global financial crisis

For many years, I have warned people against the misdeeds of hyperconsumption; for many, daily life is centered on purchasing increasingly luxurious goods and services, first of all for one’s pleasure, a fleeting satisfaction. In fact, the evanescence of contentment procured by consumption is also what has allowed excessive consumption to rise.

Once purchased, the new object integrates with existing possessions and the pleasure of ownership quickly fades; a new desire swiftly surfaces, exacerbated by the omnipresent advertising. Abraham Maslow rightly said: «Human beings always want something. » In addition, when one lusts for a new object, it is invariably a little more luxurious than the one it replaces, since the characteristics of the latter are taken for granted, they no longer procure the expected pleasure. This is what I call inflation of consumption.

To feed this limitless flow of consumption, people must either draw on their income or their savings, or get into debt. The very rich, the ones middle class people wish to emulate, can more easily satisfy their cravings without getting into debt, to a degree; the inflation of consumption phenomenon also applies to them.

As for the middle class, consumption’ main engine and banks’ key clientele, a recent Léger Marketing survey shows that it has become impoverished, worse indebted. In a report published September 15 2008 by Statistics Canada one can read : «Households had 19.6 cents of debt for every dollar of net worth and $1.25 of debt for every dollar of personal disposable income.» And the situation is worse in the United States. This is precisely what has caused the global financial crisis that we now live.

To fuel their craving for consumption, people have borrowed on the added value of their property, at often excessive interest rates and without the lender verifying the borrower’s ability to repay. It is understandable that the budget balance is fragile; it may be compromised by the slightest glitch, illness, job loss, etc., resulting in even a slight decrease of income flow, or by inflation in the price of an essential commodity, gasoline for example. This is what happened in the United States.

In 2007, many people were unable to meet financial obligations, especially the repayment of loans contracted, the sadly notorious subprime mortgages. This payment default, multiplied millions of times, has undermined several U.S. financial institutions. Unable to recover the money lent, they in turn were unable to repay their creditors, much less guarantee their depositors’ money, thus causing a rush to withdraw invested savings before banks, they fear, run out of cash. This has created a liquidity crisis and the «domino» effect did the rest.

Evidently, other factors have made the crisis worse, many investors borrowing to create leverage being one and speculation another, but those are subjects on which I will not dwell today; my goal was to demonstrate the link between hyperconsumption and the global financial crisis ... which I have now achieved.

1 comment:

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