James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The good thing about a bad economy

There are two different approaches to achieving the same ends. One is guilt-manipulation and preaching "sacrifice." This is the tactic of religious and political leaders: You are [sinful/selfish] if you don't "help the environment;" preachers say "the body is a temple" while politicians wage "wars" on obesity, tobacco, and drugs. In their world, you are not only sinning against God if you don't take care of yourself, you are also (or should be) a criminal.

The second approach is giving advice and tips designed not to make you sacrifice, but to profit: Just by doing [thus-and-so] to your house, you can cut x amount from your utility bills, and, by the way, you will help the environment; you can save hundreds of dollars of dollars per year, and lose y amount of pounds, if you just cut one serving of z per day."

What motivates you more, improved finances, or being marginally less of a sinner in the eyes of a still-angry God? Improved health and happiness, or making the government's health and economic statistics look better by 1/300 millionth?

Those of an authoritarian bent will tell is that something is "bad" because it is sinful or somehow harms "society" (by which, they mean The State). But it's more accurate to say that something is "sinful" because it is bad, because it makes you worse off. And so it's a matter of incentives. If we are made to feel guilty about our behavior, we are more likely to tell the (religious and secular) puritans to mind their own business. But if we see the benefits of changing bad habits to good, we are more likely to follow through.

Monetary inflation is wrecking the economy in much the same way I said it would two years ago. While I don't want anyone to lose their jobs, lose their homes, or starve, I do see some positives about economic uncertainty. For instance, just about every day on Yahoo there is a story about how to save money or cut down on gasoline consumption. Many of the money-saving tips are environment-friendly, and of course cutting gasoline is itself both helpful economically and environmentally. For instance, today there's a story on home-based jobs. Working from home not only saves on gas, but allows one to a) work at one's pace and time, b) be flexible when making appointments, c) be there for the kids, d) be less likely to spend money and gain weight on vending machine snacks and restaurant lunches, e) steer clear from the stress of office politics and gossip. And, oh yes, by the way, f) cuts down on carbon emissions.

Other positive developments include the greater demand for hybrid cars. Also, the higher shipping costs provide incentives from people to purchase from local growers and producers. And the more people get out of their cars, the better. Walking and biking is good for the body. Reading on the bus or train - which you previously didn't have time to do when commuting by car - is good for the soul. And the more people who choose debt-free living, the better off everyone will be.

A bad economy forces people to prioritize and make changes. There is potential for people to discover that by cutting certain expenses, they are not sacrificing their quality of life, but are actually enhancing it. And improving the finances, health, and minds along the way. And also the environment.

1 comment:

  1. The Giants are helping the environment by having such a bad team that fewer people in the SF Bay Area are using fuel to go to a game.