Sunday, November 16, 2008

'Spending . . . Is How We Fill Our Time'

Washington Post | In "Going Broke: Why Americans Can't Hold On to Their Money," psychologist Stuart Vyse analyzes the economic mess we're in, and what it is about our brains' inner workings that puts us there.

-- Monica Hesse

So, how did we get in this housing crisis/perilous tailspin situation? Psychologically speaking?

Basically it comes down to a simple sense of overconfidence about the future, which is inherent in our nature. . . . Especially in the realm of mortgages. You have a big company offering you an enormous amount of money, and they say, "You qualify." There's a psychological process where, if [that happens], you think, well, they must think I'm good for it.

Why don't we Just. Stop. Spending?

Because we live in a country where it's patriotic to spend, where our economy depends on spending. . . . It's a habit, it's what we do for entertainment, it's how we fill our time.

Why is this coming to a head now? Is human nature different than it used to be?

The marketplace has invaded our lives in quite a different way than it did 30 years ago. In that earlier period, when you were home, you were out of the marketplace. Today, I could buy a car without getting out of this chair or off this phone. When a purchase comes to mind, you must struggle with the fact that you could have it right away.

You'd think all that choice would make consumers happy.

In fact, we live in a world where there are too many choices. When the dazzling must-have item appears, be it an iPod or an iPhone, if you have a credit card in your pocket, then you're churning inside with whether or not you should pull out the card and walk out with the item. That creates the stress of, Can I justify this? Will this be okay? Will the future work out if I do this? In many cases, the person who has no credit card, no ability to buy at all, is freer.