Combatting our Culture of Crass Conspicuous Consumption

I love looking through all of the direct mail that I receive. I have stand-alone DSL now instead of Charter Cable internet (which saves me about $20 per month on my internet bill.) So, direct mail does have the potential to reach an appropriate target audience. I recently received the above mailer advertising a credit card called Venue whose tagline is “Making luxury affordable.”

Webster defines luxury as “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.” In our economic situation, which was partially fueled by offending desires for excess, the last people need to be doing is indulging in things that are not absolutely necessary. As you can see from the scans, this pamphlet is chock full of wonderful items including giant flat panel televisions, Breitling watches, expensive jewelry, and the most fashionable fragrances. All of these items are offered in terms of low monthly installments which will be subject to exorbitant interest rates and stiff penalties if a payment should ever be late.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t dispute this company’s legitimate right to operate their business. I personally disagree with it, but I do not think that they should be legislated or regulated into behaving a certain way. The change in our crass consumption, in my opinion, should come from the consumers. Is it not enough that we are facing widespread job loss, diminished savings, and a stock market in turmoil? What else will have to happen to make people realize that spending money they do not have is a bad idea? Why do people delude themselves into thinking that the newest Sony Bravia television or Tag Heuer watch just must grace their home?

Again, I don’t want anyone thinking that I am entirely discouraging the purchase of luxury goods. Some people can afford such items, and that’s great, however, this piece of direct mail is not directed to people with the means to purchase these items. It is directed to lower income individuals that really don’t need another 29% APR credit card to rack up charges on non-essential items.

I know there’s a big debate on what is “non-essential” and whether anyone should care what anyone else does with their money or whether or not they go into massive debt. But our economic problems are not just problems for a few individuals, but for everyone as a society. The corrective actions that will be implemented and the budgetary cuts that will have to be made over the coming years will affect us all as a society.

What to do? If I had to offer a potential solution, it would be centered around community-based activism focused on educating consumers on the impact the economy has on them and corrective and preventative measures that can be exercised to minimize that impact. These community programs can also offer financial guidance to help people pay off their existing credit card debt without having to resort to title pawns, payday loans, or “credit counseling services”.