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Critical Thinkers Make Lousy Consumers

Critical Thinkers Make Lousy Consumers

Over the course of the past twenty-five years the U.S. economy has shifted from a manufacturing base to a consumer base. In other words, people my age (I’m 55) grew up in a United States that produced most of the world’s steel, automobiles, and small electronics, as well as a good deal of the world’s food and oil. That manufacturing base made us one of the wealthiest nations on earth for over 30 years, and thanks to labor unions, it also created an affluent, educated, and active middle class.

Today, the U.S. imports most of its goods and even many of its services from other countries. Globalization and a trend toward corporate mergers and acquisitions has led to the relocation of most manufacturing operations to other countries where labor and raw materials are cheap. The fact that we now import almost everything we need is often disguised in the phrase “consumer economy” or “consumer driven economy,” as if consumption itself were a marketable commodity. How can buying things be a commodity?

Buying things can become a commodity if you can market debt, and you can, and we do. In reality, the biggest U.S. commodity right now is debt. People who used to make enough money to make cash purchases now borrow money to buy the things they need (which are produced elsewhere) and the interest on their debt creates profit, which can then be sold as a commodity (often, ironically, to other countries). The loss of good manufacturing jobs has gone hand in hand with the increased availability of easy credit, and it is that credit debt and its profit that we sell in the form of securities.

The truth of the moment is that if Americans don’t keep borrowing and keep Continue reading Critical Thinkers Make Lousy Consumers