I sometimes wonder if our ways of measuring the economy are completely out of touch with a new reality.
My intuition tells me that we're going through a singular time -- one that will change our lives profoundly in ways that aren't entirely clear yet (and may not be for some time). Will economic recovery really involve new housing starts, car purchases and retail sales at a level approaching that of the past 20 years? An explosion of new retail building -- more stores, more malls, more restaurants?
Should we measure economic success by a continual increase in consumer demand? And if we don't, what replaces it? How do companies set profit targets that aren't based on continual expansion?
I'm no economist and I don't pretend to have the answers. I do know my own discomfort with the ever expanding consumer culture has prompted me to find ways of doing more with less.
I can think of no better illustration than my own home. Almost 22 years ago, I bought an old house in a first-ring Midwest city suburb. I couldn't afford the kind of house I wanted, so I looked for the best available within my limited budget -- a "starter" home.
Ten years into home ownership, I got divorced. The starter home became a full-time divorce recovery project.
As my income increased, I moved from simple do-it-yourself projects to full-fledged home remodeling. Somewhere along the way, I realized my starter home could become the home of my dreams. Rather than sell and move up, I brought my home along with me.
As I look at the growing economic crisis and wonder where it will lead, I'm profoundly grateful I chose to fix up rather than trade up. My debts are minimal, I'm within walking distance of the library, grocery store, restaurants and bus line, and I've got a house that's increased in value, even during this downturn.
And in the process, I've turned an old house into the home I always wanted.