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Everyday Cheapskate: The Excess of Consumption

Mary Hunt on

The dreaded disease we know as tuberculosis was at one time known as consumption.

A highly contagious illness, consumption got its name from the way it takes a person's life slowly from within -- first with a bloody cough, then fever, pallor and the long, relentless wasting away.

What irony that consumption, as we know it today, has an eerily similar effect.

Consumption is what consumers do to excess. We buy, acquire, eat and listen. We'd rather pay to have things made and done for us than to do them ourselves. We want to be served and entertained. When we take it to an extreme, consumption eats us from within and causes a relentless economic wasting away of soul, spirit and finances.

If consumption is at one end of the spectrum, production is at the other.

Take food, for instance. When you buy and eat food, you consume it. When you grow, store, preserve or cook, you produce it.


The U.S. used to be the world's dominant producer; we were also the world's dominant creditor. We made enough to lend to others. We produced so well that we created wealth at home and exported it to the rest of the world, too.

Slowly, over many decades, that has changed. We stopped saving. Instead, we sent manufacturing overseas, deciding to deal in non-exportable services to the point that we have become the world's biggest debtor nation -- borrowing money to finance excessive consumption of imported goods, our hat in hand, looking for more credit.

All this excessive consumption reminds me of the biblical story of the prodigal son.

A man has two sons. The younger son asks his father to give him an early inheritance of his portion of the family estate.


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