Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Inflation and Values

At Borders, we recently moved around the shelves in the Children's section to allow for a lot more free space (presumably to put toys and displays in that area for Christmas, but that's another story). As I went into the kid's section last night to clean it up, I noticed that the kids (and their "adult" guardians) had strewn things all over that area. It was as if they didn't want to see the floor, were afraid of it. Open places and quiet spaces always get them down (Carpenters). Chaos seemed to be more familiar to them. Now whether the floor was a comparisons to the homes of the people that made the mess, I don't know. But it did bring about an interesting economics idea.

One of the biggest negatives about the Congress' bailout plan for Wall Street is the idea that flooding the market with that much money would cause inflation. Or to put it simply, adding more of something devalues its worth. To take a Duck Tales episode briefly, Scrooge found a place where bottle caps were prized as money. So when Launchpad dropped a whole plane full of them on the country, the bottlecaps soon became worthless. What would have bought a house would now have bought a stick of bubble gum. A simple and exaggerated definition of inflation.

Now, let's apply this to something other than money. Let's look at stuff. Thoreau, in the first chapter of Walden, ranted about the amount of "stuff" that each person had collected with them throughout their lives. It would be an ideal image to show a person walking through life with everything he owned on top of his back, and eventually, it would be impossible to move at all. The worth of these things is also effected. Would a cup, being the only one that you had to drink coffee out of, be more valuable to you than a cup in which you had 20 just like it. Now break that cup. Do you glue it back together? If that was the only one you had...yes! But if it was one out of 20, you'd just go get another cup.

The same idea is carried over with children. The items they see throughout the stores... those items aren't owned by them, they have no intrinsic value sitting on the shelves. And if this idea is propagated by the parents, who would just as soon sit a book (or a pound of hamburger) on a shelf someplace, or on the floor (which wouldn't matter for a book too much, but it would ruin the beef), then the children have no need to take care of all the items they see around them. The value of these things is less and less, the more they see. In fact, most things that are sold today are quite worthless, in the eyes of people. They are things to be used, manipulated, and tossed away when it no longer interests you (the sad thing is that this can also be applied to looking at other people as well.  If a child, having only a few toys, was told to value these things, because they could not be replaced, they would be much less likely to destroy their toys, and when at the store, would see an increased intrinsic value in the items on the shelves. But if a child had a million toys, what would be the harm in breaking a few, or destroying a few toys in a store, for it wasn't theirs, and they weren't really a big deal anyway, he or she had plenty at home.

And I see it everywhere, from badly folded Yugi-oh cards, to books that, when read, the readers fold the spine all the way back so they can read it with one hand (which drives me absolutely bonkers), to naked Barbie Dolls (their hair won't grow back).

We don't respect or value anything anymore, because it can all be so easily replaced. This includes people, if you want to stretch the idea to the increase of divorces in America, or to the idea of "consumerism" that I've ranted about on previous blogs. There is, in business, a desire to create things that people will buy, that they desire, even if it harms them in the process. Double Cheeseburgers are offered, and so they are bought. And then we get high blood pressure and cholesterol and are sent to the doctor where we pay more money, and bloodwork (more money) and medications (more) and join fitness programs (wasted money) and finally have to buy a large coffin because the regular size won't fit our large bodies. This of course, is an exaggeration, but it's worth looking at. Because, in my opinion, there are some businesses that see customers as a resource, a renewable one, that can easily be replaced by the normal propagation techniques.

Take Credit card companies for example. Why is it that Visa or Mastercard doesn't fight you when you file for bankruptcy because you own them thousands of dollars? Because they know that there are college kids just waiting to fill out those forms and get credit cards. You're old news, bad meat, and they can get fresh meat any time they want it. People are numerous, and inflation states that they are now more worthless than they were in times past, when fewer people shopped and ran the economy of the nation. The list of examples is endless on this.

It's more than just simple supply and demand that drives this idea of inflation. People must also have a value for items, people, ideas...etc... There is a value to books, even though there may be a hundred or a million like it, because of the information contained therein. One could get damaged in the rain, and while you would have to buy another one, it would still contain the same valuable information. My assertion is that there is a value for everything that can be measure in such fashion.

I can only remember seeing a couple luna moths in my life. Gorgeous insects that glow in any light. Suffice it to say they are more rare than the common gray moths that fly around the porch lights at night. Now, what if that thing of beauty was as common as a sparrow, say. Would they be any less beautiful? Would you become blind to their beauty because of their commonality?

Take people for instance. A person should be valued as an individual, not for the money that he or she makes, or the items that he or she consumes, but rather for the thoughts and emotions that are inside of them. This is where the Borg got it all wrong. That an individual is more important as an individual, with memories and lessons and thoughts and feelings, not just someone who can by a cheeseburger. Is a person not considered valuable, even though there are millions of them upon this Earth?

If I were to teach children about value and inflation, I would teach them how to look at the value of an object indifferent to the number of them that are around. The toy to you is commonplace, banal, but to someone that has very few toys or treasures in this life, that toy would be just as valuable as a piece of fine jewelry. Separating the value of an object from the object is the best way to learn this lesson. Therefore, the books would be cleaned up, the meat put back in the freezer so someone could buy it, the person cared for, the college student warned of the problems of credit cards...etc... It is probably the most valuable lesson we could teach our children, because it impacts the way we look at the world. It brings things back into focus, and the important things of life become important again.

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