Surviving the Economic Meltdown: DANGER or OPPORTUNITY?

Surviving the Economic Meltdown: DANGER or OPPORTUNITY?

Thank you to all who attended the discussion last night!  It was very thought provoking and one of the best Shaping San Francisco talks that I have attended.

I grew up in Seattle, WA and was raised with the idea that money is equal to life energy and time and that it is important to spend less and wisely unless I wished to be constantly on the job and enslaved to a salary.  My parents practiced frugality and participated in the work of The New Road Map Foundation, whose co-founders, Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, later wrote a book entitled Your Money or Your Life that focuses on gaining financial independence and rethinking work life to include those things that hold greater interest and personal and social value.  I am very hopeful that the response to the current financial crisis will cause a lot of rethinking along these lines, and include innovation, collaboration, and to step out on a limb, maybe even some joy.

One theme of our discussion last night was how this economic crisis can be framed as DANGER or OPPORTUNITY.  It is easy to see and think about the dangers and how our nation will be negatively affected.  The poor will get poorer, there will be new poor, our resources will be depleted, and it’s going to be tough and there will be more suffering.  We should be ready to support great need through social services such as Food not Bombs, local shelters, etc. and create new ones.  We should also be ready to rally in the streets, occupy factories, tear up asphalt, (yeah!) and fight against government auto bailouts that put us deeper in our sea of debt.  But I have to say that after the talk last night I am more jazzed than depressed or even pissed off.

To me it is seems exciting and inspiring to rely on our local communities, know our neighbors, grow our own food, barter/trade, craft our own clothes, fix our favorite pair of shoes, and enjoy each others company instead of passing the night away in front of cable TV with a frozen pizza made and packaged in Wisconsin and numbed thoughts.  It gives us a positive creative way to utilize and conserve resources, combats isolation, gives us the chance to express skills that few jobs would allow, and lends to a more holistic sense of self that even folds art and spirituality back into our daily lives.  It’s a revival of what I imagine my grandparents experienced growing up in rural farm towns, infused with urban DIY culture, activism, and spiritual consciousness.  I know “hold on there you idealist hippie” you might be thinking, but I really think the time is ripe for it now more than ever.

It is a huge paradigm shift to think of spending less, needing less, and relying on one another more and I think this tends to comes across more like DEPRIVATION than FULFILLMENT to most Americans.  Give up a Lexus and fancy French dinners before going to see “Les Miserables” to ride a bike thru the rain and play board games over home-made apple strudel?  I think that living in a way that is not so strapped to the now-not-so-mighty-dollar, the ballooned American Dream, oil, and consumer materialism in general takes a lot of work, awareness, education, and commitment to alternatives.  This lifestyle shift takes time to cultivate and also requires privilege to think about it in the first place and the right environment.

I have no answers but here are some action steps I am going to take to reach out and get some new skills:

-Take a sewing class (K. Ruby suggested Stonemountain and Daughters in Oakland)

-Invite my neighbors over for board games, dessert, and conversation about the economy (no really…)

-Get involved with the social services work at the church across the street from my house

-Get over my fear that I don’t have anything in common with people and that sharing ideas and helping one another during this economic crisis is idealist hippie drivel that no one will be receptive to

-Stay involved

-Check out the Really Really Free Market

-Not care about getting a new TV when my bunny ears become obsolete in February 2009


  • Chris Carlsson

    Thanks Marisha, for a great account of the Talk. Indeed it was one of the best we’ve had in the three years we’ve been hosting Talks. It’s already on-line in two places, and you can access it at another page here on the CounterPULSE website:
    or just go straight to the SFSU DIVA collection where we stash our audio recordings:
    Love to hear further comments from people who came, or people give the Talk a listen…

  • Kathryn

    What a great approach to the changes that are taking place around us. I’ve definitely seen the creative people in the community around me coming together in more collaborative efforts that reduce the amount of money spent while strengthening the bonds between them. It’s a much more positive approach to dealing with these changes than the anxious approach that most people are using. Great plans here!

  • LeMel

    I’m cautiously happy to see many people writing and thinking along these lines.

    One happy side effect I’ll predict: The Return of Quality (TROQ). In an economy where marketers can no longer shortcut purchase conversations by appealing to wish fullfillment, they will have to start selling their wares based on the old-fashioned “quality vs. value” messaging, something we haven’t seen so much of since the 50s. And, it stands to reason, we’ll get better quality, longer lasting, less disposable stuff. The end of me-too consumption? The return of covetousness?

    Another thought (not mine) is that a new focus on savings and thrift will result in lower demand for all goods (already happening), accelerating a spiral in unemployment (12%, here we come) which will result in even less demand – well, you get the picture. We’re so busy propping up the banks, no one is stopping to consider that the “people” part of the machine is going to grind to a halt, too.

    So yes, I totally agree, there are some great opportunities for redefining abundance, but also a very real and dark downward pressure that is NOT just ‘American whining about giving up lexus dreams’, and that could have a disastrous cultural impact.

    Wish I could have been at the talk…

  • Marisha

    LeMel thank you for your post. Along with my optimism and belief in TROQ I agree about the dark side and that it is not as simple as “simplifying” or needs and learning to live abundantly on less. I realize that retracting our dollars may/will cause lost jobs and possibly “a disastrous cultural impact.” But I would like our cultural & economic values to change. So maybe some consequences is just what we need to do that. Whose thoughts were you quoting? Could you post a link?

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