There are no other countries like this on Earth. In this country, the bundles of discount coupons and advertisements are as thick as the newspaper they originally came with. In this country, malls are crowded with people whose hobby it is to shop with said coupons. In this country, the stores offer to exchange used products for new products, given that customers return an item within 100 days of its purchase — no questions asked. In this country, people fill the streets with perfectly usable furniture and day-to-day supplies on the waste collection day. In this country, people shove food waste into sinks and ignore recyclables. In this country, each household has at least two cars. In this country, a house big enough for a couple of families is occupied by just one working-class family …. The list can go on for a while. It has been one and a half years since I moved to America, but her spending habits still puzzle me.
I am not saying America is a blessed country, although some aspects may seem so. America is unique in its material abundance and its carefree spending. One might call this bountiful, but others may say the society is too dependent on the power of money and consumption. Perhaps that is why calls for social reforms in America are often based on consumer movements. Even Ralph Nader, a relatively radical voice in “real” American politics, began his career in consumer movements. He authored a book “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” arguing that only the good wills of billionaires, such as Warren Buffett, can reduce poverty and make a better world.
President Barack Obama, in his latest State of Union Address, called for a tax increase on the top 1 percent — the super-rich. A president in his seventh year, with both the House and the Senate in control of the opposing party and facing a lame duck term — never mind that the possibility of the bill passing is low — is decreeing policies like “more taxes on the rich” and “higher minimum wages” thanks to the favorable economy. The third quarter of the last fiscal year showed 5 percent growth in the American economy. While Europe, Japan and China are struggling with the recession, America has become the envy among the superpowers. As a result, the Republican Party, which has consistently called Obama’s tax policies and regulations job killers, changed their negative message into a positive one, praising Republican efforts to reduce the government deficit as the true source of the economic improvement. It seems the Republican Party will have to play Obama’s “middle-class game” to have the slightest chance in winning the 2016 election.
However, the American economy’s recent surge is largely due to luck. The American Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, which was rather nontraditional, printed and poured more dollars in the market; adding to that, the introduction of better drilling procedures for shale oil made the global oil price plummet. If we take a closer look, we cannot say with certainty that the American economy is on a strong foundation. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of middle-class Americans who earn a yearly income of between $35,000 and $100,000 has dropped to the all-time low of 43 percent; and those who left the middle class fell down on the social ladder rather than the opposite. Both Democrats and Republicans call out for the restoration of the middle class, knowing only the middle class can fuel the engine of spending that sustains the American society.
But I can’t help but feel uneasy when I consider where all the needed resources and energy must come from and where all the waste and garbage they produce will go to. One can draw an analogy between the American economy and a unicycle. What would happen to the unicycle if it slowed down? Is it possible for it to go on forever without slowing down? Is it possible for all other countries to be like America? Even if it is possible, is it right for a country — say, China — to be like America? What would happen to the planet Earth then?
In a recent YouTube Interview, Obama said, “Over time, you will see a regime like this [North Korea] collapse.” Obama may be right, but in the long run, I am not sure if that statement is only true for North Korea.