What is the ‘Age of Mammon’ all about?
My wife Elizabeth explained it the other day. People have been disappointed with ideas and ‘isms.’ They want things… material success… money… status. It doesn’t matter to them whether their government is communist (like China), or free market (like Hong Kong), or a mixed welfare/warfare empire (like the United States), just so long as it delivers the goods.
The New York Times reports on a new book called Money Changes Everything, an anthology edited by Elissa Schappell and Jenny Offill:
“… issues of money – and the envy it causes – [are] creating more financial and psychological distress than we can imagine, psychologists and social scientists say. We overspend to keep up with neighbors and friends; take jobs we’re not happy at to keep up a lifestyle we think we should have; and compulsively watch television shows that flaunt multimillion-dollar homes and exotic vacations.”
One of the results of the credit explosion is that it makes it hard to tell who is rich and who is not. People can live as though they had money, even when they have none. Which puts a strain on the whole system of envy. A man tries to keep up with the Joneses…who may be only trying to keep up with him. Neither may realize that the other has no money. Both go into debt chasing a mirage.
“‘All the ready credit gives of the illusion of living the American dream,’ says Ms. Schappell. ‘Economists report that middle-class families are now carrying record levels of credit card debt, going without health insurance and filing for bankruptcy at several times the rate of the early 1980s.’
“Turns out those McMansions and shiny S.U.V.’s have us mortgaged up to our eyeballs, but until the wolf is truly at the door, you won’t find many of us admitting it.”
And get this:
“Schappell said she now believes…that the old-fashioned ideal of working hard, saving and gradually making it is a bankrupt one. Instead, the way people envision growing rich, she said, is through a windfall: ‘a malpractice lawsuit, the lottery or going on a reality show – it’s the new American dream.'”
What do you expect when, for more than a decade, anyone who saved was penalized with miniscule interest rates?