Monday, November 29, 2010

Fareed Zakaria and the New Puritans

After my regular Saturday morning English Premier League soccer match, I tuned into Fareed Zakaria, GPS over on CNN. I had seen an ad for the show regarding consumer spending, and thought it would be interesting to get the point of view of a non-western, non-finance related personality on our troubled economy. I usually enjoy Dr. Zakaria’s show (he holds a doctorate in Political Science from Harvard) and respect his opinions on the various world happenings he covers. His forte not being economics or personal finance, I was really intrigued as to what he might have to offer on the subject of consumer spending. I wasn’t disappointed.
 His take on the subject began with the opinion that we (the US/western culture) have become overly dependent on immediate gratification. He noted that in the past, though America has always been a nation of a strong work ethic, our forefathers had always saved for a rainy day. He pointed out the Puritan ethic of frugality and saving that had helped to build this country into what it is today. However, that level of financial discipline, Dr. Zakaria continued, stands in stark contrast to today’s consumer culture that dominates the west. Westerners are obsessed with shopping, and retailers have stove the consumers’ fires, whether it be by pushing increased holiday giving or by providing special shopping dates such as “Black Friday” and the week following Christmas, just to name a couple. This consumer mentality, in the doctor’s opinion, has contributed to the overall debtor situation that we, as a country, share. He said we should look to the Pacific Rim nations for an example of how to save; that it is the Asian people who are now the new “Puritans”.
I’m not sure if I completely agree with this assessment, but I do agree that we need to be a little more discerning in our spending, and a little less dependent on others for our next “free meal” should we get in trouble. At least Dr. Zakaria did not tell us we need to be more like the Europeans, and only work a four day week and retire at sixty. That only leads to needing a handout (see the current European financial crisis).
I’d rather be like the Puritans. I guess even if that means having to look to the east, rather than to our forgotten forefathers.

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