Posts tagged “Consumption

Human silliness and $2.50 a gallon gasoline

You can learn a lot about people and politics just by looking at the silliness surrounding the price of a gallon of gasoline.

The discussion over the price of gasoline is downright bizarre.  In the strum and drang on the price of filling your tank (car, not stomach!) we see the frail irrationality of the human condition in all its glory.

  • Things that are small, we make big.
  • Things that are important, we ignore.

Let’s put the real bizarre stuff – that of conspiracy theories, the secret agenda of the socialist, Muslim Obama presidency, big oil’s manipulation to squeeze the common man until we all end up in “The Hunger Games” – let’s put that to the side for the moment.  (And if you’d like to delve into that read Krugman’s piece in tne NYTimes.)

Let’s focus for a second – just a second! – on the facts.  How much does the price of gas REALLY matter?  How much will a hike in gas prices REALLY mean to the average American?

How about we do the math?

For the sake of my own poor math skills let’s assume that we’re looking at the difference between $2.50 a gallon gas (a la Gingrich) and $5.00 a gallon gas (a la near term market reality).  And for our example let’s assume the average American drives 1,000 miles a month and has a car that gets an average of 25 mpg.

[Note that this OVER estimates the actual impact given that the real numbers are approximately 650 miles per month (Experian) and an average of 22 mpg (TruCar). But the math is easier so let’s stick with 1,000 miles a month and 25 mpg.]

That’s 40 gallons of gas a month. At $2.50 a gallon the monthly cost is $100.  At $5.00 a gallon the monthly cost is $200.

So let’s make this clear.  A DOUBLING of gas prices from $2.50 to $5.00 a gallon is going to cost the average car owner a total of $100 extra dollars a month.

$100 extra dollars a month.

Let’s see … that is …

  • the average monthly cable bill
  • a (very) cheap data plan for your smart phone
  • one (1) dinner for four at Olive Garden
  • a bad Starbucks habit

And that is what we’re excised about.  Medicare is broke.  Infrastructure is crumbling.  The cost of college is skyrocketing.  And we’re worried about the possibility of an extra $100 a month.

[Quick side note.  Since the Obama administration took office the Dow is up 60%.  For a lot of people with 401ks that real money.  Or consider that that home mortgage rates are down nearly 50%.  Again real money. And we’re getting apoplectic of $100 a month gasoline.]

Now don’t get me wrong.  There’s a lot of people out there for whom $100 a month is a LOT of money.  They are the type of people that my wife works with.  She’s a social worker.  Many of her clients live off disability or in section 8 housing or supplemental nutritional assistance (food stamps).

For them, a doubling of gas prices really hurts.

Then again, a lot of them don’t have cars.

And for the ones that do, I don’t think they were the ones that Rep. Gingrich was worried about when he launched his $2.50 per gallon campaign.

Fact is, for the VAST majority of Americans, $5 a gallon isn’t much in the scheme of things.

Which is why a lot of politicians make it such a big deal.

The ‘self’ virus

I live in Washington DC.  I work in public relations.  I used to work in politics. I am a human being.  Consider me an expert in the self-driven life.

I was thinking about that a lot lately; trying to stitch together and make sense of some crazy things I saw at work, around me outside of work, on television, on the campaign trail.  Have you seen it?  Man, there’s some absolutely crazy stuff going on out there.   How could we get so dysfunctional?  I’m thinking that there’s a new disease, worse than HIV/AIDS, ebola, and avian flu combined.  It is the attack of the self-driven and the self-absorbed.

This is a bad thing, by the way.  A very bad thing.  I’ve a sense that we’re all infected with this virus in some form.  Because it is all about me, right!  But what happens when everyone, all around you, say the same thing:  “It’s all about ME!”  Well, when that happens you have a lot of the madness that is going on right now.

As best I can tell, here are the main symptoms of this virus:

A warped perspective of reality. If it is all about you, the reality of the outside world slowly begins to fade.  Why?  Because you can’t see the important things happen that don’t relate to you.  Just like pre-Copernicus astrologers, you have this mistaken impression that life evolves around you and your well-being.  The ‘other’ is only a consideration in as much as they (a) cross your path; or (b) provide you a stepping stone to the other side.  After awhile, this is not only a sick way of looking at life it is a false way of looking at life.  Living in your own self-absorbed cocoon, everything looks rosey.  You can’t see outside yourself (another word for ‘outside yourself’ … ‘reality’!)  Then, BAM!  That nasty real world slams you up side the head.  And you never saw it coming.

Destruction of meaningful and lasting relationships. This is close to a tautology but worth noting.  You can’t have a meaningful relationship with anyone or any thing if you are the #1, #2, and #3 most important things on your daily todo list.  When you hold the top position of what’s important in your life, relationships become shallow and matters of convenience.  People no longer become people.  We’ll all playing a game of “Survivor” or “Big Brother”.  People are disposable.  Relationships are transitory.  And you wake up one morning and there’s no body around you.  Go figure!

Death of moral values.  Objective moral values – universal truths of right and wrong – suffocate in the oppressive and feckless nature of the self-absorption.  Self sucks up all the oxygen.  The old fashion ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ have about as much chance as a polar bear on a melting ice cap.  When it is all about you, concepts like honesty, integrity, service, dependability, and trust eventually lose their original meaning.  Everything becomes a function of what is good for you.

It is a nasty, nasty illness.

So what does any of this have about companies, organizations, and brands?

A lot.  I’ve seen this virus spread to them as well.  In this I’d go so far as to agree with Governor Romney.  Companies are, indeed, people.  And when they turn inward and begin organizing around self, they lose perspective of what is going on in the marketplace, the bonds they’ve built with their customers begin to fray, and they end up making really dumb decisions.

The vaccine?  Try putting something or someone ahead of yourself.  Maybe even more than one!

The people I admire are those who put themselves last, and put others first.  The same is true for companies, organizations and brands.

Assessments, Predictions and Resolutions – Happy New Year!

December is the month to look back, pretend to see forward, and resolve that the things we’ve failed miserably to accomplish in the past will somehow — with a mix of grit, will, and magic — finally happen.

It is the time we assess, predict, and resolve.

First, there are the assessments.  For some reason they follow the decimal system.  We come up with endless ‘top ten’, top twenty’, and ‘top one hundred lists.’   Of the ‘top ten’ claims and lists I’ve seen, the most audacious is that of  They claim to have the ‘top ten of everything in 2010.’  According to ‘everything’ conveniently falls into less than 50 categories.


So here’s an interesting way to spend (waste?) an hour of your time.  Google “top ten for 2010”.  You probably won’t have time to go through the 8+ billion entries.  But along the way you’ll find the top ten buzzwords of 2010.  Can you say ‘vuvuzela?’  There is  everything from a list of the top comedy movies to a list of the top ten depression blogs.  I love Google!

Then there are the predictions.

I find the urge to predict the future peculiarly interesting.  We know ‘next year’ predictions rarely come true.   There’s always something we didn’t see.  Some event no one could predict. Unconvinced?  Read J. Conboy’s piece on the ‘worst predictions for 2010.’  The Google Wave that never came ashore.  The netbook sales that never happened.  The jobs that never appeared.

We know (at least I do) that when we say this stuff it amounts to a wild-assed guess.  So we package our predictions instead as ‘bold’.  Bold means it is a real crap shoot.

When we come to grips that we are much better at taking stock of what was than predicting what will be, we turn to the ‘resolution.’  Specifically, the New Year’s Resolution.

There are many definitions of resolution.  You can look it up (or click here).  But the New Year’s Resolution usually follows this one:  “the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure.”

The New Year’s Resolution is typically personal.  We resolve to do this, to achieve that, to become something (or someone) else.  It is as if we’ve admitted that we can’t predict the future and have little control over what is ‘out there’ …  so at least we’ll make a stab at regaining some portion of self, some piece of dignity, some glimmer of a more hopeful lifestyle.

So we resolve.  And most of us fail.

Actually, those who keep statistics on such stuff say that only 46% succeed past six months (I would have guessed a higher failure rate).  And those who study this also claim that regardless of whether you keep a resolution or not, simply the exercise of trying makes a difference.

So we try again.  Knowing that next year there’s a very good chance we’ll be back wrestling with the same old issue, striving for the same elusive goal.  But that’s ok.

So here’s to 2011.  And to never giving up on making resolutions even when we know the risk of failure is high.

Happy New Year.

What Letter is Your Recovery?

Just when you thought you were out of the worst of it … Bam!  Another 200+ point drop.

I’m telling you this economic stuff is driving folks crazy.

One of my favorite subjects of discussion is what “letter” the economy will resemble over the coming months.  This has been the focus of discussion of everyone from AARP to SeekingAlpha to to MutualFundSmarts.

LettersFirst, there is the “V” shaped recovery.  The one we all want.  Straight down and straight up.

Then there is the “U” shaped recovery.  The one more likely.  Straight down, suffer for awhile, and then go back up.

Now comes the really bad letters of the alphabet.

The “W” shaped recovery.  As if we haven’t had enough of Ws already.  Sort of a bipolar recovery.  You go broke.  Make money.  Go broke again.  Make money.  Suffer. Enjoy.  Suffer.  Enjoy.

Finally there is the dreaded “L” shaped recovery.  You decend into hell and stay there.  Hopefully over time you’ll learn to enjoy it.

We need a new monogram.

The Spirit of Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Did you get the “Christmas spirit” this year?  Yes?  Well what kind of spirit was that?  I’m just checking cause a lot of what I see out there doesn’t synch with my idea of the Christmas spirit.  So just for fun I typed in “Christmas” into Google News this morning.  Here’s a sampling of what I found:

The Queen’s annual Christmas talk was one of a “sombre” Christmas that, according to Her Majesty, conjures “feelings of uncertainty.”

“Hallelujah!” “Joy to the World!”

Paris Hilton’s Christmas spirit took the form of a pink Bentley.

“Away in a manger … no crib for a bed ..!”

According to reports, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called Jews animals will say Jesus, if alive today, would be against bullying, ill-tempered nations.  (Someone needs to tell him that Jesus was a Jew)

“Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Google, with a gazillion dollars in market cap and sitting on billions in cash, canceled its Christmas bonus and instead will give its employees a cell phone.

“I have no gifts for him pur-um-pa-pum-pum … Me and my drum.”

The annual Disney parade will be hosted by Ryan Secrest and Matt Dallas, star of the television program in which he plays Kyle who has the 2008 version of the “virgin birth” … a boy without an umbilical cord and belly button living inside a chamber, until he woke up in the middle of a forest covered in pink fluid.”

“Oh come, let us adore him.”

There was the guy who dressed up as Santa and massacred people.  There was the WalMart shoppers who trampled to death the poor soul chosen to open the doors to the store.  And indeed, most stories were about shopping, retail, and sales.  So much that one story retold the quote from Bill O’Reilly who said in 2005 that, “Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born.  Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable.”

Not the spirit of Christmas that I know.

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” … “For unto you a child is born.  Unto you a son is given.”

Have a Merry Christmas.

Redefining Consumption

In the aftermath of the trauma of 9-11, President Bush gave us this advice:

Go shop.”

In so doing our President told us to go out and feed our nation’s greatest addiction and increasingly what many consider to be one of our last remaining economic assets:  consumption.

The ability to consume.  That is our heritage.  Damn the economy.  To heck with the environment, education, and the sinking stock market.

Our ability to — no, our NEED to consume seems to know no bounds.

Note that this is not the consumption that our forefathers celebrated the first Thanksgiving.  Back then they called consumption a disease.  Among other things, consumption was more likely known as a “progressive wasting of the body” … not picking up something at the country store.

Based on what I read in this morning’s papers, we should go back to the old meaning of “consumption” — that of a deadly disease.

It is bad enough that two people pulled out their guns and died in a shoot-out at Toys R Us after their respective female companions got engaged in a bloody brawl.

But that a crowd of shoppers would actually trample to death the poor WalMart employee who has the unfortunate job of opening the door in the morning?

This, my friends, is sick.  Shopping meets greed meets madness meets total lack of disregard for any one meets violence.

Welcome to the new Kris Kringle.

Here’s my advice.  Don’t shop.  Take a day off.  Go check out the folks at “Buy Nothing Day.”  Or at least shop online.  Apparently a lot of people of are.

I am thankful for a lot of things.

Not shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is one of many.

Happy Holidaze.