December 4, 2008

All Shopped Out, Maybe It's Something I Read

While visions of Roubini danced in my head...

Shopping for holiday gifts is peculiar this year, thanks to the grim economic news. The beautiful objects in the store windows seem far away, unreachable, as if there's some sort of veil separating object and possession. It's not like that I'm a poor child pressing her nose on the window of a candy store and wanting the treats inside; rather, I have somehow lost my desire for them. The once-certain passion for material things, driven by psychologies of success and attainment and fueled by the advertising industry and deep-rooted cultural traditions, was the real bubble that burst this autumn. That's a big problem when consumers drive two-thirds of the American economy.

I like to read all the articles and columns about the doom-and-gloom, especially the words of Dr. Doom himself, Nouriel Roubini. He is so gloomy. He's the NYU Stern School of Business Professor of Economics and International Business who has correctly predicted the current meltdown, explaining in this article from Forbes the ten reasons we got into this mess in the first place and in this article for the Financial Times his forecast for the coming doom of stag-deflation. (That idea of stag-deflation sounds like something that takes place after the Macy's parade.) I can't seem to get his thoughts out of my head. Maybe, it's because I live so close to NYU's Stern School that I'm able to pick up his brain transmissions, but more reasonably, it's because I also started seeing the mortgage and financial meltdown coming down the pike over a year ago.

While failing to find my way out of shopping angst, I am finding success in substituting experiences for things. In terms of living in New York, I'm grateful that I know how to make my own fun. I visit fascinating buildings, explore intriguing neighborhoods, people-watch in the parks, and saunter through museums. These experiences are affordable. While I'm not adding much to overall consumer spending (other than buying cups of coffee and bites to eat while I'm out and about, and a few books), I grow immeasurably richer through an appreciation of the creative life of a great city. This is my way of beating the downturn. With more layoffs coming in many sectors of the New York economy, I welcome anyone who wants to join me on the streets. When tossed out on the sidewalk, the best thing to do is to get up and to keep walking.

Image: New York, New York. R. H. Macy and Company department store during the week before Christmas. Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). December 1942.

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