Stop calling Americans “consumers”
I was at a small meeting on peak oil Friday – Executive Summary: We’re peaking now!
James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, was there. He is in the Mad Max/Lovelock/Wall-E school of dystopia, and so I have a number of disagreements with him (see “Why I don’t agree with James Kunstler about peak oil and the “end of suburbia“).
He did, however, say one thing that really strike a chord. He said we should stop calling Americans “consumers.” It pigeonholes all Americans and also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That seems to me a reasonable point, and I will endeavor to make a change. Indeed, I had previously blogged that the U.S. savings rate was on the rise, it looks like U.S. carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 2007, President Obama was making a big ush toward making America a nation of creators as opposed to consumers, and I asked “Is the U.S. consumption binge over?“
The figure above is from the NYT business blog, Economix, which has a longer-term, glass-is-half-empty perspective in a post titled, “Savings Rates Rising Toward Mediocrity“:
The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that personal savings rates rose again in May. Americans saved 6.9 percent of their after-tax income last month, the highest rate in 15 years.
Is that impressive? Not particularly, at least in historical terms. In fact, it’s about equal to the average savings rate of the last 50 years:
Well, I’m a glass-is-half-full type of person – or, rather, like my old friend Amory Lovins, I’m a glass-is-twice-as-big-as-it-needs-to-be person. So rather than focusing on the past, I’ll stick with Obama’s optimism about the future from his big speech on science and R&D last month – “Our future on this planet depends on our willingness to address the challenge posed by carbon pollution,” vows “we will exceed [R&D] level achieved at the height of the space race”:
I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent – to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.
I would also note that in Dale Carnegie’s uber-bestseller How to Win Friends and Influnce People, in Section Four “How to be a leader: How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment,” he has a chapter titled, “Give a Dog a Good Name.” Bottom line: People live up – or down – to expectations, and the naming of things matters. [Yes, I know, calling ourselves “homo sapiens sapiens” didn’t take.]
So, while it may just be a small thing, instead of using the term “American consumers,” I’ll just try to stick with “Americans.”