Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Economy of Nothing

Have you ever thought about how much money we spend on nothing?  Call it a by-product of the Digital Age, or the Information Age or the New, New, New Ecomony, but we Americans spend a lot of cash every day--and really have nothing to show for it.

I came across a study on line that found one in five Americans spends more on their cell phone bills every month than they do on groceries.  21% place a greater importance on being able to talk, text and surf the web from anywhere on the planet than they do feeding themselves.  And given the rising cost of digital cable and broadband internet service, a good percentage of personal income is going toward those products as well.  Billions, if not trillions of dollars spent on something that is nothing more than a series of zeroes and ones.

What's even more disturbing, is that we don't even use most of what we are paying for.  Do you max out your cellular minutes or data plan every single month?  Are you watching all 1000 channels on your cable system 24-hours a day?  Few Americans do--and that means the rest of us are spending a ton of money on zeroes and ones that we don't even use!  At least with your electricity, natural gas and water, you only pay for what you actually consume.

And this economy of nothing is a big reason why we struggle now to create new jobs--or increase the wages of jobs currently in the system.  There is no factory at which MegaBytes are being created to be sent to your cellphone through a supply chain staffed by actual people.  There are no operators connecting your calls or routing your text messages to the correct numbers.  And there is nobody at a central command center switching network feeds to your cable box when you want to flip between Duck Dynasty and the Walking Dead.

Compare modern spending habits to those of the Baby Boomer generation.  Boomers made a lot of money--and they spent a lot of money.  But that cash went toward a lot more tangible items--like the lake house, or the classic sports car, or the Harley motorcycle, or the boat or the condo in Florida.  These were actual items that required someone to build, ship, repair and maintain.  And they were things that retained some resale value.  In the case of classic cars and lakefront property, they saw very handsome increases in value--which added to the buyers' wealth.  How does one go about re-selling your left over minutes and MB's at the end of every month?  Is there an iTunes exchange like the old used CD stores we had when I was younger?

I bring this up as talk heats up again about income and wealth disparities and the need for "re-distribution".  If we are going to insist on taking away from those at the top--let's make sure that those on the bottom and in the middle don't go wasting it all on nothing--again.

1 comment:

  1. I'm working with three councilors from FISC to produce a T.V. show that details how to not spend money badly. It will be airing on the Oshkosh community station sometime this spring. Coincidentally, our next filming session is today.

    It's also interesting to note that in a monopoly market (like this one, for cable service) the monopoly company can set the price to whatever they want, and apparently nobody can do anything about it. Rather than change the spending system, people demand more money to dump onto it. Strange.