Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fluttering Pulse of Entitlement Nation

This Bastille Day report from Orange County, California is rich in insight and warning.

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Correspondent Janet M. recently filed this report from Orange County, California, a once-agricultural locale now known for its wealth, political conservatism and the infamy of going broke in the last speculative bubble/recession. Janet and I share one trait which has been discussed here before: we both dumpster-dive for fun and profit, and also because it's wrong to waste perfectly good food/stuff.

Here is Janet's commentary:

Last night my friend and I went to our local county fair. I could tell attendance has dropped off at least 30%. I go to it every year.

My heart wasn’t into it this year. My gal pal felt the same way. Afterwards we went to a cheap diner for dinner (fair food is too fattening and too much garbage). I sensed (maybe this sounds crazy) a lot of anger and hostility in the crowd. Maybe my friend and I are psychic. Two of us picking up on that? Hmmmmm.

On one hand I feel compassion for those who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. I know that feeling. Dumpster Diving has certainly helped my own personal economy and some of my neighbors and friends.

However, I was raised that if you don’t have the money, you simply don’t buy it. When I was a little kid we always had dinner at home. Dining out was a major luxury we only did once in a blue moon. Mom simply didn’t have the money. Her and my grandma drilled into my head and my brothers, stay out of debt, go to college and earn a good living, save money and live within your means.

Many folks here in CA used their home as an ATM. I saw this coming in 2006 and I warned several colleagues and friends SWHTF and it did. I had friends and former co-workers buy homes they couldn’t afford, the new car, the 60 inch TV, of course all on credit. They were thumbs their noses against lowly renters like myself. Well it has to come to bite most of these people in the ass and now they want a bailout. Then again some of these people are pouting that they have no money to buy that $300 purse. That’s really what’s going on. The gravy train of unsustainable mall shopping has come to a screeching halt. Cry me a river.

I’m so glad my Momma and Grandma pounded those values in my head. That has literally been a life raft for me. In the last 2 years I’ve been in and out of work. At one point I worked 3 minimum wage jobs to put food on the table. I do have a roof over my head, a car that works quite well (even though it’s 11 years old) and a good value system.

This economy and dumpster diving has changed me in a very big way. I absolutely loathe malls and hate shopping, I’d rather Dive. Diving is very addictive, but in a positive way. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. The anger that most of these people feel escape me. I’m really very happy. My freezer is full of food I found in the dumpster. Since I’ve been diving and giving away the excess to others God has been good to me.

Charles the entitlement mentality of people here in OC is staggering. More people should read your blog.

Thank you, Janet, for this insightful report. Strong values are indeed an under-appreciated "asset" in an economy which promotes credit as the key to "the good life."

Since our friends and neighbors know we "waste not, want not" (i.e. dumpster-dive) then they've gotten in the habit of giving us the half-used contents of their fridge when they go on vacation or attend to business out of town, etc., rather than dump the food in the garbage as they would have done in the past.

As a consequence, we've received perfectly good yogurt, chicken breasts, potatoes and beans while some other friends shared some cherries they bought on sale. I went to the locally-owned grocery store yesterday and bought bananas and zucchini on the "slightly damaged/bargain" shelf plus some round onions, more cherries (79 cents a pound on sale) and a few other items for $6.22. We won't need to buy any more food for some time, as our "scarlet-runner" green beans are starting to produce in quantity and the peach tree crop is about ready to harvest for pies. The lettuce, bok choi, cucumbers, amarynth, green onions, Russian kale and other goodies are coming along as well.

Janet observed a background of anger and resentment that the Great American Credit/Bubble Machine has ground to a halt. She also notes that the sense of entitlement--that we "should" be able to buy whatever we want whenever we want, that our houses "should" rise by $100,000 a year every year, that we "should" be able to eat out every day, etc.--is still intense.

Shall we add to that already-long list that we "should" get "free" medical care (despite knowing full well nothing is actually free), "should" enjoy low taxes (except for "rich people," of course, meaning not the people who make $100 million but those who make $150,000), and "should" have employment?

We hear a lot about a "re-set" of expectations, but Janet's report makes me wonder if this much-hyped re-set is as shallow and superficial as the "news" spewed by the mainstream media. Maybe all people really want is a quick return to "good times" and easy money with a minimum of sacrifice.

Based on the analysis I've laid out in Survival+ (see below), I think the re-set will be far more profound: a return to these "rights" and "entitlements" and these alone: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That's it, nothing else; no "free" anything.

If you want more troubling/revolutionary/annoying analysis, please read Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation (HTML version) Survival+(PDF version (111 pages):

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