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Borrowing and Spending

That small, smooth powder blue box has real power. Who doesn't immediately identify it with the jewelry retailer Tiffany’s?  What a brand!

I write these observations because last week as I walked past Tiffany's Fifth Ave store, on a cold and rainy New York winter afternoon, I saw a group of Asian tourists taking pictures of a sign on the wall that simply said "Tiffany's."  Seeing this made me wonder about many things. What is so magical about that word? What is going through the minds of these tourists?

At once I felt a surge of many different feelings.  I felt pity for the emptiness of the tourist photographers, who among all the things to do with their lives that day in New York City found value in shooting pictures of a brand name.  I felt disgust that of all the brands they prized, this one communicated an unbridled lust for opulence and in a world where the Gini coefficient is ballooning daily.  As a U.S. taxpayer, I felt pleased that foreigners are spending their money here with U.S. companies that will ultimately help support our national economy.  And, as a businessman I felt a sense of jealousy and admiration for Tiffany’s for having built such a powerful brand.

As I continued to walk and to ponder what I had just seen I reflected upon the American economy, and how we are trained to look at consumer spending levels as the barometer of its health.  I have always been troubled by the notion that many people must spend money, often buying things they never will need and may not be able to afford, in order to insure the viability of our nation’s economy.  If you listen to our politicians or economists you will often hear them extolling us to go out and spend money.  Of course, this phenomenon is no longer uniquely American, but it seems to me that it was born here.

My observation is that a society, or even a company, that is dependent upon (frivolous) consumer spending, and that will encourage massive personal indebtedness through various easy money policies in order to goose spending, is ultimately unsustainable – financially or spiritually.  Maybe, before you buy something for yourself first ask if you really need it or even want it.  Before you buy something for someone else, maybe for those of you with tons of disposable cash that could even be something from Tiffany’s, ask yourself what it is you’re trying to communicate and see if there may be a better way to do so.  Can we tell our kids or loved ones that we care for them without giving them a consumer good and a pre-printed Hallmark card?  I’d bet we all can, and the message would come through much clearer too.  And before you borrow money to make that purchase carefully consider the tradeoff you’re making and the impact on your lifestyle that the purchase will have.  Finally, if you work for a business that sells things that people don’t really need and ought not even want maybe you should consider seeking new employment.  We all deserve to live a life with meaning.

Note:  As of this week I will only be publishing once per week, on Monday, rather than twice.  I’m always gratified to hear that people have been enjoying my blog.  To those of you who have expressed this sentiment, thank you.  It’s fun to write, and even more so to know that the effort has been appreciated.

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