In my first post, I discussed (among other things) the kind of moral outrage inspired in this culture in the face of people "spending beyond their means."
In that post, I referenced a piece "In the Long Run, We Are (Not) All Dead." I chose it for a number of reasons, not the least of which was because it directly attacked Keynes on (what it considered) moral grounds.
But I just recently recalled a South Park episode, one that makes the point better than anything else I've seen, and better than anything I could write. It's called "Margaritaville."
It's sheer genius. Watch it if you can.
Residents of South Park become convinced that the reason for the economic crisis is "frivolous spending." And it not only becomes a moral issue; it becomes an explicitly religious issue. Randy walks around wearing sheets, preaching to the residents of South Park, speaking in the language of the Old Testament. They all listen in awe. Through our "needless spending", he preaches, we have "forsaken The Economy." "We have become lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of The Economy" he thunders.
How to appease the "vengeful, unforgiving" Economy that we have forsaken? Abstinence. Self-denial. Abstain from "needless spending." "Instead of cars...we can get around on llamas. Instead of video games...our kids will play with squirrels!" (It's just hysterical. If you don't want to watch the whole episode, just watch that one clip)
When Kyle objects, saying we should all go out and spend more ("whichever of you guys that has never gone out and bought something frivolous go ahead and huck the next squirrel"), he is treated as a heretic. (Quite literally: "There's only one option. We have to kill the Jew")
Of course, given capitalist conditions, Kyle is right, and Randy is wrong. (When people start spending again, by the end of the episode, economic conditions in South Park improve.) Capital accumulation (typically called "growth") is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for increased employment, and spending is a necessary condition for capital accumulation.
But such a state of affairs is sheer insanity. Under capitalism, luxury is a condition of necessity. (That is, for people to have jobs, the economy must grow -- entirely irrespective of whether some of the consequences of GDP growth are deleterious, or even whether such growth is sustainable over the long-term. But this is all the more reason to eradicate a system under which people must sell their labor-power to acquire the mere means of their existence. That is, it is all the more reason to rid ourselves of the institution commonly known as "the job.")
[To be sure I am not misread: I am not imputing an anti-capitalist sentiment behind this episode, let alone to South Park. In fact, I'd be very surprised if Parker and Stone held such a view. I am, however using this episode to (a) show how the objection to spending has a moral & religious fervor; (b) show how spending, rather than saving, is necessary to bring a capitalist economy out of a recession, and (c) to argue that, given all the consequences of (b) we should perhaps consider transforming our economic system. This show explicitly endorses claims (a) and (b), though not (c). Whether Parker and Stone would even consider something like (c) is something I can't answer. Further, I admit, I have here barely elaborated on, or made the case for, part (c). That will have to wait for another post.]
[Incidentally, this South Park episode is brilliant on yet other questions as well. If, for example, anyone reading this blog is unfamiliar with the debacle of mortgage-backed securities, just watch this episode. If you substitute the word "Margaritaville" for "mortgage," you basically have it. And the lampooning of the Fed is also just hysterical.]