Has there ever been a major holiday more focused on materialism than the modern American Christmas? This year, Americans are planning to spend an average of 830 dollars on Christmas gifts, which represents a jump of 110 dollars over the average of 720 dollars last year. But have our incomes gone up accordingly? Of course not. In fact, real median household income in the United States has been experiencing a steady long-term decline. So in order to fund all of our Christmas spending, we have got to go into even more debt. We love to pull out our credit cards and spend money that we do not have on lots of cheap, useless stuff made on the other side of the world by workers making slave labor wages. We do the same thing year after year, and most of us have grown accustomed to the endless cycle of growing debt. In fact, one Pew survey found that approximately 70 percent of all Americans believe that “debt is a necessity in their lives”. But then we have to work our fingers to the bone to try to make the payments on all of that debt, not realizing that debt systematically impoverishes us. It may be hard to believe, but if you have a single dollar in your pocket and no debt, you have a greater net worth than 25 percent of all Americans. I know that sounds crazy, but it is true.
Overall, when you add up all forms of debt (consumer, business, local government, state government and federal government), Americans are more than 60 trillion dollars in debt.
Let that sink in for a bit.
40 years ago, that number was sitting at about 3 trillion dollars.
We have been on the greatest debt binge in the history of the world. Even though we were “the wealthiest, most prosperous nation on the entire planet”, we always had to have more. We just kept on borrowing and borrowing and borrowing from the future until we completely destroyed it.
And we still haven’t learned anything. Instead, this Christmas season we will be partying like it’s 2007…
Americans are planning on celebrating Christmas like it’s 2007.
A November survey by Gallup found that US adults are planning on spending about $830 on average on Christmas gifts this year.
That’s a huge jump from last year’s $720 average.
Notably, American consumers haven’t suggested a number that high since November 2007, when they were planning on spending $866 on average.
Sadly, our incomes simply do not justify this kind of extravagance. As Zero Hedge has pointed out, household incomes “actually peaked at least 15 years ago in 81% of U.S. counties.”
So why can’t we adjust our lifestyles to match?
Why must we always have more?
Here are more details on our declining incomes from the Visual Capitalist…
- Income peaked one year ago for many of the counties that are a part of the shale boom. This includes much of North and South Dakota, as well as parts of Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Income in Washington, D.C. and neighboring Arlington County also peaked then.
- In 1999, a total of 1,623 counties had their households reach peak income. The majority of these counties are in the Midwest and Southeast.
- The most southern part of California and parts of New England both peaked around 25 years ago.
- Many states along the Rocky Mountains such as Wyoming and Montana had counties that peaked roughly 35 years ago.
- Household income peaked in upstate New York, the northern tip of California, and southern Nevada at the same time that humans were first landing on the moon in 1969.
But you won’t hear this reported on the mainstream news, will you?
They want us to think that happy days are here again.
The following chart comes from the Federal Reserve, and it shows that real median household income in the United States has been trending down since 1999…
Americans should be having smaller Christmases instead of bigger ones, but that doesn’t fit the image of who we still think that we are.
Recently, I published an article entitled “Goodbye Middle Class: 51 Percent Of All American Workers Make Less Than 30,000 Dollars A Year” that was shared more than 44,000 times on Facebook. In that article, I included brand new figures that were just released by the Social Security Administration. As you can see, the quality of our jobs is not great…
-38 percent of all American workers made less than $20,000 last year.
-51 percent of all American workers made less than $30,000 last year.
-62 percent of all American workers made less than $40,000 last year.
-71 percent of all American workers made less than $50,000 last year.
Without a doubt, most American families should not be spending hundreds of dollars a year on Christmas gifts.
At these income levels, most American families are just barely surviving.
But once again this year, millions upon millions of Americans will flock to the malls and big box stores in a desperate attempt to make themselves happy.
Sadly, those efforts will be in vain. In fact, in a previous article I highlighted the fact that Christmas is the unhappiest season of the year. The suicide rate spikes to the highest level of the year during “the holidays”, and 45 percent of all Americans report that they dread the Christmas season. The following is an excerpt from a Psychology Today article…
We are told that Christmas, for Christians, should be the happiest time of year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends and colleagues. Yet, according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.
In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have given up the tradition of Christmas gifts entirely, and many of them that I know seem quite happy to have done so.
Of course most people are still quite satisfied with the status quo, and there are many that will get very angry with you if you dare to suggest that the way that Americans celebrate Christmas has gotten way out of hand.
But shouldn’t it alarm us that for most Americans the biggest holiday of the year is all about the “stuff” they are going to buy, the “stuff” they are going to give and the “stuff” they are going to get?
As a society, we are obsessed with things, but those things are never going to make us happy.
Perhaps we should all take some time to reflect on the traditions that we choose to participate in and what they really mean to us during this “holiday season”…
For most people, Christmas is all about the presents. But how did such a supposedly sacred holiday become a festival of greed? Not many people know the history behind Christmas gift giving, and it will probably shock you. This year, Americans will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 billion dollars on Christmas, but most people have no coherent explanation for why they are buying all of these gifts. Those that are Christian will tell you that they are doing it to celebrate the birth of Christ, but as you will see below, gift giving on this holiday originated long before Christ was born. Others will tell you that they are just following tradition, but most of them have absolutely no idea where the tradition of Christmas gift giving originally came from. And the truth is that most people simply don’t care about the history. They are just excited about all of the stuff that they are going to get on December 25th. But if you are curious to learn how Christmas became a festival of greed, just keep reading…
In early America, there was no Christmas gift giving. In fact, the Puritans greatly disapproved of celebrating the holiday, and in some areas the celebration of Christmas was actually banned by law.
For example, if you were caught celebrating Christmas in the state of Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681 you could be fined five shillings…
On May 11, 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature even went so far as to officially ban Christmas and gave anyone found celebrating it a fine of five shillings. The legislature stated the ban was needed “For preventing disorders arising in severall places within this jurisdiceon, by reason of some still observing such festivalls as were superstitiously kept in other countrys, to the great dishonnor of God & offence of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labour, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.”
The ban remained in place for 22 years until it was repealed in 1681 after a new surge of European immigrants brought a demand for the holiday. Even though the ban was lifted, Christmas was not warmly embraced by the puritans and it remained a dull and muted holiday over two centuries later.
But weren’t the Puritans Christians?
Didn’t they want to honor the Lord Jesus?
Of course they were Christians. They took their faith incredibly seriously. But they also knew their history a lot better than we do.
Most Christians do not realize this, but Christians did not celebrate anything in late December for the first 300 years after the time of Jesus. The only people that celebrated anything at that time were the pagans.
By now, most of you are probably aware of the great Roman celebration known as Saturnalia. But most people don’t know that our tradition of gift giving can be traced back to that holiday. The following is how Wikipedia describes this ancient pagan festival…
Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn, held on the 17th of December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to the 23rd of December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.”
Most people do not realize this, but the priests of Saturn would even carry wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession throughout the pagan Roman temples. These processions probably looked at least a little bit similar to our Christmas parades today.
So precisely who was Saturn? Here is more from Wikipedia…
Saturn (Latin: Saturnus) is a god in ancient Roman religion, and a character in myth. Saturn is a complex figure because of his multiple associations and long history. He was the first god of the Capitol, known since the most ancient times as Saturnius Mons, and was seen as a god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. In later developments he came to be also a god of time. His reign was depicted as a Golden Age of plenty and peace. The Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum housed the state treasury. In December, he was celebrated at what is perhaps the most famous of the Roman festivals, the Saturnalia, a time of feasting, role reversals, free speech, gift-giving and revelry. Saturn the planet and Saturday are both named after the god.
Eventually, the Romans began holding a festival at the end of Saturnalia on December 25th called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means “the birthday of the unconquered sun”. Throughout the empire, the “rebirth of the sun” was celebrated with great revelry. The winter solstice was past and now the days were starting to get longer again. It was a seemingly logical time to honor “the rebirth of the sun god”.
When the Roman Empire legalized Christianity in the early 4th century, the Roman government began to put a lot of pressure on church leaders to fit into the broader society. So eventually the birthday of the Son of God was moved to the time when the rest of society was celebrating “the rebirth of the sun god”. December 25th was first celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in about 336 AD, and in the year 350 AD Pope Julius I officially decreed that Christians would celebrate that day from then on. At first, the new holiday was slow to be adopted by Christians and it was not widely observed until about the year 400.
And of course Jesus was not actually born in late December. The evidence that we have indicates that he was most probably born in the fall during the Feast of Tabernacles. The only reason people celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th today is because the Catholics of the 4th century wanted to appease the pagan Roman government and the pagan culture at large.
Over time, the practice of gift giving during late December faded, and by the early 19th century the big tradition was actually to open presents on New Year’s Day. But then merchants saw an opportunity. According to historians, advertisements for “Christmas presents” began appearing in newspapers in the United States in the 1820s…
Buying gifts to celebrate Christmas is steeped in tradition, dating to the 1820s when newspapers began to advertise items for Christmas presents, according to the Connecticut Historical Society.
“This holiday market place is part of the larger birth of the consumer culture that extends itself to all aspects of our social life,” said Leigh Eric Schmidt, author of “Consumer Rites” (Princeton University Press, 1995).
Schmidt, a professor of religion at Princeton University in New Jersey, said if the nation had continued the practice of giving gifts only as mementos for New Year’s, Christmas would not have evolved into the huge retail venture it is today. There would have been more focus on the religious aspects of the holiday. But all that changed when gift-giving became a way to honor family relationships.
And at first, Christmas in America was nothing like the festival of greed that it is today. Gifts were usually small, modest and personal. The following is one description of the tradition of Christmas gift giving during that era…
In the 1820s, ’30s and ’40s merchants had noticed the growing role of gifts in the celebration of Christmas and New Year. Starting in the mid- to late- 1850s, imaginative importers, craftspersons and storekeepers consciously reshaped the holidays to their own ends even as shoppers elevated the place of Christmas gifts in their home holiday. However, for all the efforts of businessmen to exploit the season Americans persistently attempted to separate the influence of commerce from the gifts they gave.
What emerged was a kind of dialogue between consumers and merchants. Many gift-givers, for instance, ranked handmade gifts over purchased or totally manufactured ones. Retailers responded by marketing partially assembled goods to which givers applied the finishing touches. Americans also moderated the relationship between commerce and giving by wrapping the gifts they gave. The custom had once been merely to give a gift unadorned and uncovered, but a present hidden in paper heightened the effect of the gesture, fixing the act of giving to a moment of revelation. Wrapping also helped designate an item as a gift. As gifts came increasingly from stores, factories and homes of cottage labourers, paper and string helped redefine an object to meet its social use. The commercial work comprehended the importance of this symbolic transformation of goods. Grander stores began to wrap gifts purchased from their stock in distinctive, coloured papers, tinsel cords and bright ribbons, as part of their delivery services. Thus, while paper might have blurred a present’s association with commerce in some cases, in others it advertised a material status associated with patronizing the ‘right’ store.
Over time, Christmas gifts came to be associated with a mythical gift giver in cultures all over the globe.
Of course in the United States this mythical gift giver is known as “Santa Claus”, but in other areas of the planet the traditions are very different…
Current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela and Colombia) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children’s homes, a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States.
In South Tyrol (Italy), Austria, Czech Republic, Southern Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Slovakia, and Switzerland, the Christkind (Ježíšek in Czech, Jézuska in Hungarian and Ježiško in Slovak) brings the presents. Greek children get their presents from Saint Basil on New Year’s Eve, the eve of that saint’s liturgical feast. The German St. Nikolaus is not identical with the Weihnachtsmann (who is the German version of Santa Claus / Father Christmas). St. Nikolaus wears a bishop’s dress and still brings small gifts (usually candies, nuts, and fruits) on December 6 and is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht. Although many parents around the world routinely teach their children about Santa Claus and other gift bringers, some have come to reject this practice, considering it deceptive.
This article may upset some people because their Christmas traditions are so deeply cherished.
But there is no reason to be upset.
If you are going to do something, you should know why you are doing it.
Knowing our history empowers us to take control of our lives and to make better decisions.
As a Christian, I never knew any of the history behind Christmas when I was growing up. So I could never explain the reasons for why I was doing the things that I was doing to others.
And no holiday should ever be a festival of greed.
So whatever you are celebrating this time of the year, make sure it is for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.
The parallels between the false prosperity of 2007 and the false prosperity of 2014 are rather striking. If we go back and look at the numbers in the fall of 2007, we find that the Dow set an all-time high in October, margin debt on Wall Street had spiked to record levels, the unemployment rate was below 5 percent and Americans were getting ready to spend a record amount of money that Christmas season. But then the very next year the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression shook the entire planet and everyone wondered why most people never saw it coming. Well, now a similar pattern is unfolding right before our eyes. The Dow and the S&P 500 both hit record highs on Monday, margin debt on Wall Street is hovering near record levels, the unemployment rate has ticked down a little bit and Americans are getting ready to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season. The truth is that the economy seems pretty stable for the moment, and most people cannot even imagine that an economic collapse is coming. So why are so many really smart people forecasting economic disaster in the near future?
For example, just consider what the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center is saying. This is an organization with a tremendous economic forecasting record that goes all the way back to the Great Depression. In fact, it predicted ahead of time the financial trouble and the recession that would happen in 2008. Well, now this company is forecasting that there is a 65 percent chance that there will be a global recession by the end of next year…
In 1929, a businessman and economist by the name of Jerome Levy didn’t like what he saw in his analysis of corporate profits. He sold his stocks before the October crash.
Almost eight decades later, the consultancy company that bears his name declared “the next recession will be caused by the deflating housing bubble.” By February 2007, it predicted problems in the subprime-mortgage market would spread “to virtually all financial markets.” In October 2007, it saw imminent recession — the slump began two months later.
The Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, based in Mount Kisco, New York, and run by Jerome’s grandson David, is again more worried than its peers. Its half-dozen analysts attach a 65 percent probability of a worldwide recession forcing a contraction in the U.S. by the end of next year.
Could they be wrong?
It’s certainly possible.
But I wouldn’t bet against them.
John Hussman is another expert that is warning of financial disaster on the horizon. He believes that we are experiencing a massive stock market bubble right now and that stocks are approximately double the value that they should be…
If you look at corporate profits and especially corporate profit margins, they’re one of the most cyclical and mean-reverting series in economics. Right now, we have corporate profits that are close to about 11% of GDP, but if you look at that series you will find that corporate profits as a share of GDP have always dropped back to about 5.5% or below in every single economic cycle including recent decades, including not only the financial crisis but 2002 and every other economic cycle we have been in.
Right now stocks as a multiple of last year’s expected earnings may look only modestly over valued or modestly richly valued. Really if you look at the measures of valuation that are most correlated to the returns that stocks deliver over time say over seven years or over the next 10 years the S&P 500 in our estimation is about double the level of valuation that would give investors a normal rate of return.
Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if stocks really did drop by 50 percent?
Well, Hussman says that this is precisely what must happen in order for stock prices to return to historical norms…
Right now, like I say, we are looking at stocks that have been pressed to long-term expected returns that are really dismal. But more important than that, in every market cycle that we’ve seen with the mild exception of 2002, we’ve seen stocks price revert back to normal rates of return. In order to get to that point from here, we would have to have equities drop by about half.
If that does happen, it will make the crisis of 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.
Meanwhile, other very prominent thinkers are also warning that an economic nightmare is rapidly approaching.
Economic cycle theorist Martin Armstrong foresees major economic problems in 2015 which will ultimately lead to “civil unrest” in 2016…
It looks more and more like a serious political uprising will erupt by 2016 once the economy turns down. That is the magic ingredient. Turn the economy down and you get civil unrest and revolution.
And of course there are a whole lot of other economic cycle theorists that are forecasting that we are about to experience a massive economic downturn as well. For much more on this, please see this article and this article.
What is truly frightening is that we have never even come close to recovering from the last economic crisis. One poll that was taken just prior to the recent election found that only 28 percent of Americans said that their families were doing better financially. In addition, here are some more survey numbers about how Americans are feeling about the economy…
According to voter exit polls conducted by CNN, 78% said they are worried about the economy, with 69% saying that, in their view, economic conditions are not good. 65% responded that the country is on the wrong track vs. only 31% who believed that it is headed in the right direction.
Even though we are repeating so many of the same patterns that we experienced back in 2007, we are doing so with a fundamentally weaker economy. The last crisis did a tremendous amount of permanent damage to us. For an extensive look at this, please see my previous article entitled “12 Charts That Show The Permanent Damage That Has Been Done To The U.S. Economy“.
And there are lots of signs that much of the planet is already entering another major economic slowdown. In a recent article, Brandon Smith summarized some of these. He says that we are currently witnessing “the last gasp of the global economy“…
Global exports, and thus consumer demand, are plunging. Germany, the only pillar left to prop up the failing European Union, has experienced a severe decline in exports not seen since 2009.
China, the largest exporter and importer in the world, and Chinese companies, have been caught in a number of instances using fraudulent invoices to artificially inflate their own export numbers, in some cases reporting 50% more exported goods than had actually existed.
China’s manufacturing has also declined for the past five months, exposing the nature of its inflated export stats and indicating a global slowdown.
The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global shipping rates for raw goods, and thus a measure of demand for shipping, continues to drag along near historic lows.
The U.S. consumer (the only economic asset the U.S. has besides the dollar’s world reserve status), has seen declines in spending as well as wages.
In the meantime, long term jobless Americans continue to fall off welfare rolls by the millions, making unemployment numbers look good, but the overall future picture look terrible as participation rates dissolve into the ether of government statistics.
How is such poverty being hidden? Foodstamps. Plain and simple. Nearly 50 million Americans now subsist on food stamp programs today, and this number shows no signs of dropping. In states like Illinois, two people sign up for food assistance for every citizen that happens to find a job.
From time to time, I get accused of “spreading fear” and of being obsessed with “doom and gloom”.
But that is not the case at all.
I actually want our economy to stay stable for as long as possible. Many Americans don’t realize this, but even the poorest of us live in luxury compared to much of the rest of the world. It would be wonderful if we could all live out our lives in peace and quiet and safety.
Unfortunately, it is simply not going to happen.
And it does not take an expert to see what is coming.
Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the economic disaster that is approaching.
There is hope in understanding what is happening and there is hope in getting prepared. Millions of Americans that are willingly blind to our problems are going to have their lives absolutely destroyed when they get blindsided by the coming crisis. So please use this brief period of relative stability to get prepared and to warn others.
Once this false bubble of hope runs out, all of our lives are going to dramatically change.
It is that magical time of the year for retailers. The period between mid-October and late December can often make the difference between success or failure in the retail industry, and this year will be no exception. As you will see below, it is being projected that Americans will spend a massive amount of money this holiday season. In fact, what Americans plan to spend on Christmas this year is greater than the yearly GDP of the entire nation of Sweden. So isn’t this good economic news? Shouldn’t we be happy that Americans are opening up their wallets so eagerly? Well, it depends how you look at it. Even though our spending is increasing, our incomes are not. As I discussed the other day, 50 percent of American workers make less than 28,031 dollars a year and incomes have been stagnant for years. That means that any increases in spending must be funded by more debt, and that is not good news at all.
In 2014, approximately 70 percent of all Americans will participate in Halloween. It seems like with each passing year this dark holiday become even more popular, and before it is all said and done it is being projected that Americans will spend a whopping 7.4 billion dollars this time around…
Kicking off the end of year spending season is Halloween. Just how much do Americans spend on trick-or-treating and other Halloween festivities? The National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasts total Halloween spending—including candy, costumes, and decorations—to come in at $7.4 billion this year.
That 7.4 billion dollars includes 2 billion dollars for Halloween candy and 350 million dollars for pet Halloween costumes.
Yes, you read that correctly. We are collectively going to spend 350 million dollars on Halloween costumes for our cats and dogs.
Overall, spending on Halloween has risen by more than 55 percent since 2005. It just seems like Americans can’t get enough of this particular holiday.
But of course what Americans spend on Halloween is not even worth comparing to what Americans spend on Christmas.
According to the National Retail Federation, more than 90 percent of Americans celebrate either Christmas, Kwanza or Hanukkah.
And Christmas in particular has become virtually synonymous with materialism. This year, the National Retail Federation is projecting that Americans will spend more than 600 billion dollars just on Christmas.
That represents a huge chunk of our GDP as a nation.
Most of that money will be spent on Christmas gifts. According to a Gallup survey that was just released, the average U.S. adult plans to spend 781 dollars on Christmas gifts this year, which is significantly up from last year…
Americans’ initial estimates of the total amount they will spend on Christmas gifts this year point to an above-average holiday season for the nation’s retailers. While Gallup’s October spending forecast is a warm-up to its key measure in November, it finds Americans expecting to spend $781, on average, up from $704 last November.
Of course holiday spending does not end there. There are trees to put up, packages to send out and decorations to buy. The following numbers are from a Forbes article about what an average American typically spends during a Christmas season…
Christmas Tree: $41.50
Cards And Postage: $32.43
Floral Arrangements: $22.61
Food And Candy: $95.04
So where is all of this money coming from?
That is a key question.
If our incomes were going up, all of this spending might be good news. But as the following chart from the Federal Reserve demonstrates, that is not the case…
Our incomes are stagnant at best. But Americans always like to party as if it were the best of times. So they will pull out their credit cards and spend what they feel they need to spend in order to feel happy once again this year.
But deep down most people realize that this debt-fueled party cannot last forever.
Deep down most people realize that we have some incredibly serious long-term problems that need to be fixed.
Sadly, no matter which political party occupies the White House, and no matter which political party controls Congress, our long-term problems only seem to get even worse.
As our problems have multiplied, over time Americans have become angrier and angrier.
And right now is election season, and so that is very bad news for Democrats…
Nearly 7 in 10 Americans are angry at the direction the country is headed and 53% of Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job performance, two troubling signs for Democrats one week before the midterm elections, a new CNN/ORC International Poll shows.
Democrats are battling to try and save the Senate majority, while hoping to prevent more losses in the House, which the GOP controls by a 234 to 201 margin.
In the Senate, Republicans need a net gain of six seats, and several state polls in the past month of contested races show that Democrats are in danger of losing control of the majority, and thus Congress.
If the Republicans do take control of both houses of Congress, will that fundamentally change the direction of the country?
I wish that I could believe that, but at this point most Republicans are virtually indistinguishable from most Democrats.
In other words, it is very hard to tell them apart.
As a nation, we are steamrolling toward a date with oblivion, but everyone is trying to put such a happy face on things.
Well, enjoy this time of relative stability while you can, because it is going to end way too soon.
When it comes to materialism, has any nation ever surpassed what we are seeing in the United States right now? We define our lives by how much stuff we have, to a large degree our personal and business relationships are defined by how much money we make, and even most of the important dates on our calendar are all about materialism. Just think about it. We throw outrageous birthday parties for our kids and we shower them with gifts. Most of our “holidays” have become highly materialistic, and the biggest holiday of all in our society, Christmas, is an absolute orgy of materialism. We make lists of the “wealthiest Americans” and we glorify their achievements. We spend most of our time either making money or spending it. Even the phrase “the American Dream” reveals how materialistic we are. When most people are asked what “the American Dream” is, they start talking about a house, a car, vacations, retirement, sending your kids to college, etc. The American Dream has become all about money and stuff. Sadly, no matter how big our homes are and no matter how many shiny new toys we accumulate, we never seem to be happy. We always want more, and we always seem to be willing to go into more debt to get it. We are the most materialistic society in the history of the world, and our endless greed is going to end up swallowing us alive.
When it comes to materialism in America, there are outrageous examples all around us, but one of my favorite examples is the “Rich Kids of Instagram“. It is a Tumblr blog of photos from Instagram of young Americans showing off how they are enjoying the vast wealth of their parents. The following is how the Washington Post describes the blog….
The controversial new Tumblr is a collection of snapshots from the photo-sharing site that depicts the children of wealth and privilege — summering in the Hamptons, lounging on yachts and posing by their luxury cars.
One does a back-flip out of a helicopter near St. Tropez. Others snap pictures of their restaurant bills — allegedly paying thousands of dollars for lobster, champagne and high-end liquor.
In the warm patina of the Instagram, the youngsters appear to be living over-the-top lifestyles — and enjoying every moment.
“Our everyday is better than your best day,” reads one caption, a bit tauntingly. And, “Do you have a horse in your backyard? Didn’t think so.”
But just because you have a horse on your property does that make your life better than the rest of our lives?
Of course not.
Wealth does not equal happiness.
Unfortunately, however, most Americans have totally bought into this lie.
Most Americans believe that more money equals a better life.
In response to “the Rich Kids of Instagram”, the Huffington Post recently put together a piece entitled “the Rich Cats of Instagram” that features photos of cats as they “model upscale accessories, lounge with bottles of champagne, sail on yachts and ponder life while relaxing atop piles of money.”
Of course a lot of those pictures are quite funny, but they also reveal a deep truth about our society.
We have spent our lives chasing after the almighty dollar thinking that it will make us happy. Study after study has shown that we tend to link wealth and happiness. The following is from a recent NBC News article about one of those studies….
Many parents already know older children can be materialistic. Some tweens not only want the latest games and clothes, but also think owning these things will bring them happiness, friends and popularity. And marketers are eager to get them to buy: Tweens spend $28 billion a year, not including the more than $200 billion their parents spend on them, according to market research company C+R Research.
But even though we have an incredibly high standard of living compared to most of the rest of the world, are most of us actually happy?
No way. In fact, Americans take more anti-depressants than anyone else on the planet.
It is really easy to get caught up in materialism though. Let me share an example from my own life.
Several months ago our old truck completely died. Instead of pouring thousands of more dollars into fixing it, we decided that we would get another used truck.
So the other day I stopped by a dealership while my wife was grabbing some things from Home Depot. The salesperson started showing me some of the used trucks on the lot, but after a while I suggested that he show me some of the new trucks that were sitting on the other side of the lot.
Before I knew it, I was sitting in the most expensive truck on the lot and he was showing me all of the cool features it had.
And I have to admit – for a few moments there I was really enamored with that truck. It was the coolest truck that I had ever seen in my life.
Of course my wife and I don’t need a truck like that. We only need to haul stuff around a few times a month. And we certainly do not need the amount of debt that it would take to buy such a truck.
But for a few moments there I really wanted it. The pull of materialism can be very strong.
So would that truck have “changed my life” or brought me lasting happiness?
Of course not.
It would have brought some thrills for the first couple of days, but after a while it would just be sitting in the garage taking up space just like any other truck would.
So did I end up buying a truck?
Not yet. But we need one soon. My wife has been without a truck for quite a few months now and she is getting impatient.
But whether we get a nice used truck or a used truck that has one foot in the grave, it really isn’t going to change our lives much.
In the end, our lives should not be defined by what we own or by how much money we have in the bank.
But how do we refer to ourselves in this day and age?
The American people are called “consumers” and the truth is that we consume far more than anyone else on the globe does.
Just look at our eating habits. Of all the major industrialized nations, America is the most obese.
The next time you go into a store, take note of how many people are overweight.
It has not always been this way. Back in 1962, only 13 percent of all Americans were obese.
But now overeating is a national sport. At this point, approximately 36 percent of all Americans are obese, and it is being projected that number will rise to 42 percent by 2030.
While we are gorging ourselves with food, what else do we like to do?
That’s right – we love to watch television. In fact, the average American watches 28 hours of television every single week.
We have become completely and totally addicted to entertainment, and we have become trained to be constantly “plugged in” to something.
Our lives have become all about constantly feeding our greed and our selfishness. In fact, that is a major reason for the breakdown of the family in America. We tend to view marriage as a temporary condition that can be quickly discarded when it no longer makes us happy.
Sadly, the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world by a very wide margin at this point.
In addition, more Americans than ever are putting off marriage these days. Young Americans are being told that “an education” and “a career” are more important. According to the Pew Research Center, only 51 percent of all American adults are currently married. Back in 1960, 72 percent of all adults in America were married.
As a result of these factors, we are an incredibly lonely nation. Today, the United States has the highest percentage of one person households on the entire globe.
In order to fill the void, the American people turn to things that will numb the pain. American use more legal drugs than anyone else on the planet and they also use more illegal drugs than anyone else on the planet.
We have more “stuff” than any other society in the history of the world has ever had, but it has not made us happy.
And how did we pay for all of this?
We paid for a lot of this with debt. In fact, we have accumulated the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world.
During my lifetime, the debt of the U.S. government has gotten more than 30 times larger. For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “27 Things That Every American Should Know About The National Debt“.
But the federal government is not the only one with a debt problem. The truth is that our entire society is absolutely drowning in debt.
Over the past 50 years, the total amount of debt in the U.S. has grown from less than a trillion dollars to nearly 55 trillion dollars….
We have used massive amounts of debt in an attempt to feed our endless greed and materialism and we have gotten ourselves into a whole lot of trouble.
This is one of the reasons why I write. I want people to understand how bad things have really gotten.
Thanks to our foolishness, our economy has been declining, it is going to continue to decline, and a massive economic collapse is coming.
Some people believe that this is a message of “doom and gloom”, but that is not the case at all.
Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that somehow everything is going to be just fine is not going to do anyone any good.
Instead, I believe that warning people about the coming economic collapse is a message of hope.
There is hope in understanding what is happening, developing a plan to deal with it, and preparing yourself and your family for the storm that is coming.
It is the people that are ignoring all of the warnings that are going to be in real trouble.
Millions upon millions of people will be absolutely blindsided by what is coming. Many will give in to total despair once they realize that their prosperity is gone and they have done nothing to prepare for what they are now facing.
My hope is that the information that I write about will be shocking enough that it will wake people up and motivate them to get prepared so that they can handle the incredibly challenging years that are ahead.
And the truth is that our lives should not be about our money and our stuff anyway.
Your possessions are just temporary. None of them are going to last forever and you certainly cannot take them with you when you die.
Even though our economy has had some rough times, we still have a higher standard of living than 99 percent of the humans that have ever lived on this planet have had.
You would think that would be enough for us.
But it isn’t. We have hoarded our wealth and we have lived in luxury and self-indulgence.
When our debt-fueled prosperity disappears, most Americans are not going to know how to handle it.
Most Americans will believe that their lives are “over” at that point.
But those that are not caught up in materialism and that have prepared for what is ahead will understand that the next chapters of their lives can be the greatest chapters of all.
If you and your family are blessed and prosperous this holiday season, you should consider yourself to be very fortunate, because there are tens of millions of other Americans that are desperately hanging on by their fingernails. The Christmas stories that you are going to read below aren’t going to give you any warm fuzzies. They aren’t about “Santa Claus” sliding down the chimney to leave huge piles of presents around the tree. Rather, they are representative of what so many American families are feeling this holiday season – horrible, suffocating, soul-crushing despair. As you and your family gather around the holiday tree on December 25th, millions of other Americans will be facing a Christmas with absolutely no gifts. As you and your family dig into a delicious holiday meal, millions of other Americans will be breaking out the meager supplies they picked up at the food bank or that their food stamps have enabled them to purchase. As you and your family tell stories around the fire, millions of other Americans will literally sit shivering in their own homes because they have no money to heat them. The stories of those who are suffering so deeply very rarely get put on television, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t very real.
The truth is that there are millions upon millions of American families that have been pushed to the edge of despair by the lack of jobs. In August 2009, only 10 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for 2 years or longer. Today that number is up to 35 percent.
One very disturbing sign of the times is that many churches are now holding “blue Christmas” services to comfort those who are going through hard times. Back during the “good times” such a thing would have been unimaginable, but now they are being held from coast to coast.
All over the nation, food banks, aid agencies and homeless shelters find themselves absolutely overwhelmed this winter. Connie Lassandro, Nassau County’s director of Housing and Homeless Services, recently was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying that she has never seen a greater demand for her agency’s services….
“The new faces we’re seeing are families who have never before faced the risk of actually being homeless. Children don’t understand. ‘Where’s my bedroom? Where’s my toys? Where are my friends?'”
Sadly, the truth is that the U.S. economy no longer produces even close to enough jobs for everyone, so somebody is going to suffer. Today, there are over 6 million Americans that have been unemployed for half a year or longer. It can be really easy to quote economic statistics such as this, but sometimes what gets lost in all the numbers are the very real stories of the people that are actually living through all of this. This year there are literally millions of American families that have sad Christmas stories to share.
On The American Dream blog, a reader of my column identified as “momma loses hope” recently left a comment in which she really opened up and shared her story with us. Sadly, her story is so similar to what so many millions of other young American families are going through this holiday season….
While my husband has experience, and an education, he is yet to find and keep a job that is worth anything, that would be possible to pay back these $400/mnth loans on deferment, let alone keep us going barely.
Despite his greatest effort and attempts, to locate work that would pay anything over $10 an hour in the field he trained for, or some cross over skills in another profession, still nothing has been happening beyond numerous and then dwindling interviews in the last 2 years.
He is currently working at a $10/hr people mill that has outrageous expectations that are near impossible to meet, just to keep your job. Much of what you are supposed to control, is not within your control! That was after having lost unemployment due to its exhaustion, where we had nothing coming in for 30 days. He found this job and went through training. We were thankful to have anything coming in, but it is not going well. Half of his training class is gone either bc they quit or were fired. We are finding out this is the normal for this business.
Prior to the unemployment of 99 weeks, he had a great new job. $60 k a year was good from having some on the job experience at another job prior to that which was an internship, he got. So this was a good option for a chance out of school. They were content with his level of experience of 3- 4 years in IT w/ the hands on education and internship. We moved to relocate for this job 2500 miles away and then he was let go 6 months later, after he was able to clean up a bunch of unresolved problems for them. They wanted someone with 10 years of experience, all the sudden, despite they knew his skill level! Anyhow, the network was held together with tape and bubble gum. So long “best practice” theory.
I guess they had been left in the lurch bc someone left without notice, they advertised for help for months even out of state, and then they hired my husband to fill the desperate gap. Then they didn’t want to keep shelling out the money to keep him. Used him and turned us away, like no big deal; They fired him after 6 months, after we spent all our savings to move to another state… That is when we went on unemployment, and hubby returned for more education, while still looking for a job too.
We moved back home confused as could be. We were helpful that something would come along back home. Things only got worse for the prospect of careers being offered.
I was hoping they were going to improve, but no they have not. We are dying here. But that is not the end of our troubles.
Last year my husband got a $10 a hour job, got H1N1 and Dble Pneumonia and went to the hospital for 14 days or whatever. He was fired by Stream for not being in training and they refused to place him in another training class when he got out the ICU. Then we were left with over $10,000 ( the other $90 grand was forgiven) and we have collectors after us. We survive day by day, we don’t have anything extra to pay anyone or anything….
So, we don’t have any savings,( we used it to relocate to gain employment as I already mentioned) & we have needed things bc we have a baby coming. We haven’t made it long enough to get anything else saved up to rely on, bc unemployment doesn’t pay you what you were making at your job. The unemployment is gone and there is none left, if he loses this job. We don’t qualify for anymore student loans at this stage. This job is shaky at best and these people fire and lose people like there is no tomorrow, and have constant training going on. What a nightmare! We are not able to get a career in the IT Industry that he trained for and paid for with these loans. What do we do? We have a 6 year old and a baby that is on the way in 3 months.
We are so lost and without hope. We trust in Jesus, but what do we do beyond trying to get a better job? It takes effort to gain a job, but there are not enough possiblities hiring as this article states, and I testify to. All my husband does beyond going to this crap job, and playing with our son, is scouring the internet for jobs, and this has been going on for so long!….
I can’t believe this is happening again…..What is a mother and wife to do? We can’t get on track! We don’t drink or drug or sabotage ourselves and our family, and yet we cannot get on track “with the go to school and get a great job” crap I have heard my whole life. Something is broken and cannot be fixed. Sometimes we wonder why God hadn’t just taken my husband’s life when it was in peril and the rest of our family, as it would be better than dealing with this pain and unresolved heartache.
I am so scared and lonely, I could just die. My tears go unnoticed. I sit here without answers. I am one of millions going through the same thing.
Can you imagine being in such a situation? What is perhaps saddest of all is what this economy is doing to so many children. According to one recent study, approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 – the highest rate in 20 years.
Poverty is absolutely exploding all over the United States. The number of Americans living in poverty has increased for three consecutive years, and the 43.6 million poor Americans in 2009 was the highest number that the U.S. Census Bureau has ever recorded in 51 years of record-keeping.
So, no, this Christmas is not “a season of joy” for many Americans. For example, a commenter on the Unemployed-Friends website identified only as “jobless_in_MA” says that her holidays are going to be quite depressing since she has been out of work for 2 Christmases in a row now….
Well, this is now my 2nd Holiday season in a row being jobless, and this year seems far bleaker than last years. Ive always been the type to love this time of they year. I would look forward to it. I was always the one in the family who would be the great gift giver, especially to the younger members of my family.
Last year I was REALLY upset because I couldn’t do 1/4 of what I normally would do, but still managed to enjoy the season. Im not so sure about it this year.
A lot has happened to my situation in the past year, Ive lost my place, filed bankruptcy, lost some of my dignity, and my marriage is on the rocks.
I am NOT in the holiday season at all, and its really bringing me down.
Usually around now we would be talking about getting a tree. Sometimes we would cut our own tree down, and decorate it together.
We would always have a family holiday party at our place, and I don’t see that happening this year at all.
Yes, every year there are some Americans that are “down and out”, but it is undeniable that the number of Americans that are suffering extreme economic pain has absolutely skyrocketed in recent years. Today, one out of every six Americans is now enrolled in a federal anti-poverty program. As 2007 began, “only” 26 million Americans were on food stamps, but now 42 million Americans are enrolled in the food stamp program and that number keeps rising every single month.
Sadly, there are millions upon millions of Americans that do have jobs and yet barely find themselves able to hang in there. Many Americans have been forced to grab whatever job they can find. In fact, the number of Americans working part-time jobs “for economic reasons” is now the highest it has been in at least five decades.
It is becoming increasingly more difficult to make a living in the United States. Today, half of all American workers earn $505 or less per week.
Could your family get by on $505 per week?
That is something to really think about.
So is anyone doing well?
Well, the only group that saw their household incomes increase in 2009 was those making $180,000 or more.
Not that being wealthy is a bad thing, but what that statistic shows is that the middle class in America is being wiped out.
We are seeing this in community after community across the nation. A reader of this column identified as “Bibi” recently left a comment that did a great job of describing the economic decline and economic despair that we are now seeing all across America….
I have recently traveled from coast to coast and then some. This is a synopsis of what is really going on. Californians seem to be in lalaland. Look good and spend money, lots of it that you don’t have. LA has become very dangerous. Police will knock on your van if you stop to rest with a coffee even if you are at a convenience store. It is illegal to sleep in your vehicle and you will be arrested. Las Vegas is full of poor and homeless wandering around aimlessly. Tent cities and blocks of people living on the streets. dirty and super dangerous. The decline is in your face. Police and security presence are at ‘ad nauseum’ levels. AZ and NM are ****holes. My family refused to get out of the van in Albuquerque. Sedona is still nice but its surrondings make it on borrowed time. Little artsy towns will be taken over quickly when TSHTF. The only city I went to in TX was Amarillo. Didn’t see much but it looked seedy and dirty along the highway. OKlahoma- ***. If I didn’t stay on a military base, I would have broke the speed limit to get through it. The thought of getting gas in Little Rock still gives me nightmares. Enough said. AK- Lots of boarded up towns. Saw this all along Route 40. TN- Stay away from Memphis if you want to live. Nashville is the craziest city I have ever seen. Everyone acts like they are on speed. When you get around Pigeon Forge, Maggie Valley and Gatlinburg, you see the true beauty of this state but they are tourist traps. W. VA is beautiful, but the people are very backward. I could live in Northern W. VA. East coast- VA. Beach has been in decline and was just dubbed the “most drunken city in the U.S.” They must be proud. Lots of trouble here. Big police presence. Took 10 minutes for me to get questioned about my out-of- state plates. N&S Carolina- Bigger cities are dangerous, especially Columbia, SC. Big police presence. Baltimore- be afraid, be very afraid. Keep going. NJ- Something like a horror movie. Do people really live here? Scary and smelly. NYC- Was advised by thruway attendent to “keep going and don’t stop” Overturned cars, tons of high rise ghettos, not a safe place. I was terrified my van would break down. Albany, NY.- my destination. Ghettopolis. Stopped by police within minutes as to why I was driving in city so late. ? Informed it was not safe. Stopped again the next day regarding my plates at a police check. They threatened to tow my van because my “license didn’t come up”. [he was holding it] Stopped again for seatbelt violation. I always wear it but he said he couldn’t see it. Am I imagining it or did I really see National Guard walking around with rifles? Well, I promply left NYS and will never go back. The Florida panhandle is far from perfect and has an ever expanding police force, but it is quiet. Not safe, but quiet.
Once upon a time, there were a few cities and towns around the U.S. that were obviously in a state of decline, but now it is happening everywhere.
In fact, there are many areas throughout the country that scream “economic despair” the moment you drive into them. It is almost as if someone has sucked the life right out of them.
So why is this happening? Well, as I recently pointed out, America’s economic pie is rapidly shrinking. As our national wealth continues to be destroyed, even more American families are going to suffer.
For decades we have enjoyed a debt-fueled binge of prosperity that was unlike anything the world has ever seen. But now the day of reckoning is fast approaching and things are going to get even worse.
So if you are doing really well this holiday season, be thankful, because next year it may be you that has the sad Christmas story.