Rich man’s burden

You know, I should really stop relying on the New York Times Op/Ed or ‘Style’ section for cannon fodder here.  But they make it so fucking easy!

Millionaire Thomas Friedman writes a sorrowful elegy to the U.S. economy as it continues circling the drain, discussing his urge to chide foolishly spendthrift younger people.

I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish. This financial crisis is so far from over. We are just at the end of the beginning. Please, wrap up that steak in a doggy bag and go home.”

Please note, it’s okay for Friedman to be at the restaurant, it’s the young folks who should be staying in their houses and subsisting on Ramen noodles and Kraft macaroni and cheese.  No doubt Friedman thinks he’s well-meaning, but the tone of that “confession” comes off as insufferably smug and judgmental.  I’m well aware of the downward spiral the economy is taking, which is precisely why I don’t eat out terribly often at the present.  Thus, when I do eat out, the last thing I need is the baleful stare of a hypocrite boring into the back of my skull and wondering if I can really afford that plate of fettucine Alfredo I’ve ordered (not that I’m by the book definition of young, but I’m also not rich).  He can afford it, no question, but the rest of us, what are we doing out here recklessly spending our last dimes on something so frivolous as a pleasant evening outside our homes? Perhaps instead of sending bottles of wine to other tables, he can do something really helpful and classy, like going around handing out coupons and food stamps.

I’m no economist–hell, when it comes to numbers I can barely comprehend high school level algebra–but I’m pretty sure that not spending money isn’t going to help revive the economy.  It may be an overly simplistic analogy, but as a water fountain needs water moving through it in order to flow, the economy needs money circulating to keep moving forward.  Yes, cutbacks, tightening of the belts, this is necessary and perhaps inevitable, but the Chicken Little shrieking of “DON’T EAT OUT! DON’T GO ON VACATION! CANCEL CHRISTMAS!” seems a bit counterproductive to improving the situation.  Being scared out of buying presents for your kids, purchasing a new car, going away for the holidays, etc. isn’t going to save the economy, it’s just going to lead to more businesses closing down and more people losing their jobs, and it will get worse.  Being guilt-tripped over a relatively minor indulgence like dining out every now and then by a millionaire columnist for the New York Times is just going to make the situation more depressing and aggravating than it already is.

Perhaps the most amusing thing about this editorial? It appears in the same issue as a puff piece on a Swedish furniture store that sells $975 lamps and $6,000 dressers.


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