Our punditocracy is bemoaning the fall in consumer activity. Here we are with seventy percent of our GDP consumer driven, and everyone is sitting on their wallets. The implications for the economy are grim.
There are, however, other dangers lurking over the horizon that are even direr than the economic dangers. This ebb in consumption could destabilize the wonderful political structure that has been built up over the decades.
I’ve told you (or you predecessor, but who the fuck remembers these things) that I don’t believe in conspiracies. Even our educated elites are too stupid to pull one off. What you have, instead, is a blind momentum driven by ego, greed and stupidity. However, if you look at the unbridled growth in consumption over the past few decades you’d swear there was a conspiracy at work.
In short, rabid consumption has been the smoke screen that has concealed from the public the gradual loss of its prosperity and its freedom. As long as there was a credit card that hadn’t been maxed out, people believed they were doing great. A housing bubble was increasing the value of their homes by obscene amounts, and everyone assured them that it would continue forever. They accumulated so many toys that the construction of self-storage units became a growth industry.
The more obsessed they became with their toys, the emptier their lives became, and this is where their consumption slowly made them more amendable to political control. The person whose life is empty, who has deconstructed everything except his ego, is a marketers dream. The only meaning in this person’s life is appearance, for such a person is convinced that the right appearance will hide his vacuity. If the surface shines, the interior is fine, no matter how it’s rotted. Shiney hair, moist skin, cool rags and the right appointments are all an individual needs to be whole.
It follow that the person whose life is confined to his bedroom mirror doesn’t really care about what’s happening to his country or the world. A Patriot Act here or some electronic surveillance there made no difference as long as the closet was full and the screens were blinking.
So, now you see the danger the country is facing. The simple fact of the matter is that as consumption shrink, people will start making an amazing discovery: their lives are actually better without the toys to distract them. They become aware of the world, and when this happens, there is always a danger they will become engaged, and when they become engaged, there is always the danger they will become aware.
That is the threat. We want a public that shops, not one that debates.
Unfortunately, the country is too broke to float another asset public, so the future of consumption is murky, indeed.
This leaves us with Northcom, the new military entity created to police America. The Pentagon wants to have this command up to 20,000 on the ground by 2011. This may not be enough. Instead of ramping up the campaign in Afghanistan, you might want to ramp up the campaign in America. Things could get a little surly.
If you’re not careful, there might be an outbreak of democracy.