Monday, June 28, 2010

To Spend or Not to Spend, That is the Question

Whether tis nobler to give one's excess money to charity to take care of the poor, or to spend it on things you enjoy and which provide employment (and paychecks) to others, so they do not become the poor who need your charity.  I apologize to Shakespeare for the take-off on his words, but I'm serious about the question.  I've read several things lately,and unfortunately didn't keep links, which seem to suggest that one reason people, especially people in the third world, are poor is because we middle and upper income Americans consume more than our share.  It was suggested that if we really wanted to put our Christian beliefs into practice, we'd simplify, get rid of the excess and give more away to those who need it.

The reality is that most Americans do have far more than what we need.  One of the fastest growing businesses is storage facilities--and that is during a time when experts say we have the biggest houses and smallest families in history.  Yes, we have a lot of stuff, and besides that, we do a lot of things.  We go out to eat, we travel, we entertain ourselves, we educate ourselves and yes, most of us even give to charity (and that's besides paying taxes).  However, I have to ask "Is that a bad thing or a good thing?"  My family will go on vacation in a few weeks--an utterly frivolous endeavor.  We will burn up gas--and people working in the oilfield and refineries get a paycheck as a result.  We'll stay in a hotel, providing profits for owners and paychecks for maids, clerks, office personnel and more.  We'll visit attractions, providing jobs for yet more people.  We'll eat in restaurants and buy junk--yup, more jobs.  Then the people we helped pay can go out and buy yet more stuff,or save for future or give to the poor, or any combination thereof.

I'm not suggesting that we never give to charity, or that we spend beyond our means just to help others, but if everyone gave away their excess rather than spending it or saving it to spend in the future, then, in my opinion, we'd just have that many more people needing charity.  What do you think?


  1. Good question.
    Helping the next guy get food on his table and his children to the doctor- through work or charity- that is the point for me. I'd rather it be through work.

  2. We tithe so I don't feel guilty about spending $$ on vacations. If we all stop buying stuff, then more get laid off and more are in need.... I'd rather spend and keep folks employed

  3. I think the distinction in this situation, just as for diets and exercise, personal vices, and most things generally, is that of moderation.

    I don't think doing without all things frivolous will help anyone, I agree as you stated, that it will cause issues (just like when we save versus buy in a capitalist economy it actually hurts the economy).

    On the other hand, I do think our propensity for waste or excess often exacerbates a situation. We're buying more junk of child-labor assembly lines from third world countries than quality goods from skilled artisans. In the first, we really aren't helping those workers - we're contributing to their exploitation. In the second we could be providing a real boost to one's livelihood.

    I've seen many of the same articles you have espousing this theory and I've seen nearly as many economists saying it's wrong wrong wrong.

    Personally, I have been trying to simplify our lives by reducing our disposable consumption, weighing purchases are a stricter need vs. want scale, trying to buy locally when possible. However, this isn't just so I can give to others, but also so I'll have more money to spend on things like vacations and quality long-lasting goods.


View My Stats