Austerity is the correct diagnosis of today's condition if we're viewing things through the lens of a Consuming Economy.
If our view is through the lens of a Conserving Economy, however, then this is a long-overdue recovery from years of unsustainable increases in consumption. A Consuming Economy values things by how quickly they're used up, while a Conserving Economy values things by how far they're handed down.
I use my grandmother's mixing bowl whenever I want to make a loaf of bread. I hope to hand it down to my oldest son, who is a chef. But it's hopelessly out of fashion, as she probably bought it in the 1950's.
This highlights the fact that the engines of fashion and style are tuned to entice us to regularly buy the latest fashion or risk being "outtadate." This is an inherently unsustainable practice, as it requires us to constantly throw things away and buy new things.
The grotesque end-game of ever-increasing consumption is beginning to play out today in many arenas.
Consider the obesity epidemic in the US. Food companies listed on the stock exchanges must increase their sales each year or risk stock value losses.
But people only eat so much... or so we thought.
But immigration wasn't increasing fast enough for people to eat enough to keep stock prices up, so they discovered an alternative: people tend to eat what is set before them.
So if you "super-size" the portion, most people are likely to eat it. This has transformed Americans into a most obese and hungry species that hardly resembles the humans for which we are named.
The bottom line is that there are two measures: By the measuring-stick of the Consuming Economy, the Conserving Economy is sick roughly half of the time. But by the measuring-stick of the Conserving Economy, the Consuming Economy is ill most quarters of the year. The problem isn't so much our state of affairs as it is the measure by which we gauge it.
This is one of 6 posts that contain my presentation to the joint INTBAU-Notre Dame conference in London, Architecture in the Age of Austerity, on April 30, 2012.
Here are the posts:
Post 1 (this one)