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by Rob Horning

13 Jul 2009

I’m generally skeptical about proclamations of the “new frugality,” because I’m not convinced that we know what to do with ourselves if we are not shopping. Consumerism, as an end in itself, has infiltrated most activities, sapping away their intrinsic appeal and making them seem reliant on consumerism, rather than vice versa. Deliberate frugality has a certain novelty appeal, but when that wears off, it will probably feel like privation, not sane living within reasonable limits.

But when viewed through the lens of economic data as opposed to the requirements of consumerist ideology, the potential for frugality looks quite different. In this paper (pdf, via DeLong) economists Christopher D. Carroll and Jiri Slacalek claim that the consumerism party is over:

our best guess (illustrated below by forecasts from a simple
model) is that the drop in overall consumption spending will not be speedily reversed; indeed, we project that the saving rate will rise a bit further from current levels before stabilizing somewhere not far below the saving rates that prevailed before the era of financial iberalization that started in the late 1970s. But we would not be greatly surprised if the saving rate ultimately rises even more than in our most extreme projection. In answer to the question in our title, our view is that American consumers are not merely resting from their former role as the world’s champion consumers, they are permanently reforming their spending patterns, in response to the end of the period of ever-more-available credit that fueled the unsustainably high spending of recent years.

For them, the key factor in the advance of consumerism has been credit availability; implicit in their argument is the idea that consumerist ideoogy flows from such factors—the credit is there, and then its abuse is rationalized by a consumerist ideology. Perhaps. But should we expect a painful lag as the new base economic situation gives birth to a new consumer mentality? Won’t we fight this sudden need to save, having been trained to neglect it? Or is the economic crisis truly traumatizing the spender in us, obliterating it?

Gluskin Sheff analyst David Rosenberg, who was right about so much of what happened in the housing market, argues (pdf) that the American economy had a “consumption bubble,” which now makes an actual “era of frugality” inevitable. As he puts it, “Getting small is the new trend,” but that seems a bit misleading. He doesn’t make the case that people are excited about consuming less. His argument relies more on the fact that Americans accumulated so much stuff during the past decade of consumer credit expansion.

what makes this downturn different and more troublesome than its predecessors is the downside potential for consumer discretionary spending. The level of non-housing durable goods assets on household balance sheets—even after adjusting for the increase in the population and inflation, so we are looking at the ownership of “stuff”—is almost 20% higher today than it was during the last consumer recession in 1990-91 and 40% higher than the consumer recession of the early 1980s.

People have a lot more stuff now, as we speak, so presumably they will find it much easier to maintain a lower level of consumer spending going forward. But that assumes that people were buying stuff because of the stuff, and not for the thrill of the buying—the rituals of shopping, which culminate in acquisition but then must be started anew to provide the same satisfactions. The stuff we already own is sort of pointless in that respect; what the recession perhaps will do is reacquaint us with the pleasures available in the stuff we have already amassed. Maybe we will set about romanticizing the thrill of discovery in our own closets rather than in retail world. But for all that stories about the joys of frugality, I’m not convinced this is actually happening. It still seems that saving is regarded as “painful” and that increased spending will be regarded as a return to health, both for individuals and for the macroeconomic picture.

by Matt Mazur

13 Jul 2009

An excellent little hybrid of noir, thriller, and war-time espionage, Flame & Citron follows two hit men’s journey through Nazi-occupied Denmark. Viva le resistance! Drawing many a comparison to Melville’s Army of Shadows, the film opens July 31st in New York at the Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, and will gradually roll out nationally August 14th. Flame & Citron will also be available On Demand July 29th.

by PopMatters Staff

13 Jul 2009

Our Lady Peace
Burn Burn
(Sony/Warner)
Releasing: 21 July 2009 (US)

SONG LIST
1. All You Did Was Save My Life
2. Dreamland
3. Monkey Brains
4. The End Is Where We Begin
5. Escape Artist
6. Refuge
7. Never Get Over You
8. White Flags
9. Signs of Life
10. Paper Moon
11. Time Bomb (* Deluxe Only)
12. The Right Stuff (* Deluxe Only)

DVD (* Deluxe Only):
All You Did Was Save My Life (* Live in Studio)
Dreamland (* Live in Studio)
Monkey Brains (* Live in Studio)
Never Get Over You (* Live in Studio)
Refuge (* Live in Studio)
The Right Stuff (* Live in Studio)
All You Did Was Save My Life (Music Video)
The Right Stuff (Music Video)

by Bill Gibron

13 Jul 2009

It’s taken a lot of deep thoughts, and two movies, but this critic has finally figured out what makes Sacha Baron Cohen “funny”. Now, I’m not talking about hilarious in the traditional sense. Only a juvenile would chuckle out loud at the kind of stilted shock tactics the British comic offers up as jokes. After all, if you’ve seen one flopping phallus or anti-Semitic cartoon, you’ve seen them all. Nor am I commenting on the always offered “skewering social commentary” angle to his supposed wit. Running into the woods with rednecks and exposing their narrow minded proclivities is the intellectual equivalent of challenging babies to chess. No, Cohen is funny because he offers up ideas that are tired, obvious, and completely calculated, and then gets those recently born suckers that PT Barnum loved to mention to buy into it freely and openly. He’s not laughing with you. He’s laughing at you!

Let me explain. If you were to walk into a room of right wing politicians and find a couple of complete nimrods that believe the world is flat, evolution is a myth, and that God created man, woman, and organized sports, you’d giggle - but not out of surprise. Many people wear their beliefs so fully on their rolled up sleeves that it’s almost impossible not to see them. No, your titter comes from seeing stupidity so blatantly exposed. For Cohen, this is the foundation of his brand of “funny”. He goes to a meeting of NOW and degrades women. He heads to the Middle East and mocks a known terrorist. He takes a trip to Texas and gets a beer-ed up bar to sing along with a song about dropping Jews down a well. He walks directly into the line of fire and then screams - usually in character - about how horribly hot it is. Now, this is not novel. Anyone could do it. As long as you have the guts, finding hate in a hotbed of prejudice should be a slamdunk.

by PopMatters Staff

13 Jul 2009

Lily Allen has just released her latest video. “22” attacks the misogyny inherent in the assumption that a woman’s life is over once she’s past the full flower of youth.

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