I have been reading and watching television this week. Nothing like having the flu to get you to stay in one place. And I am fixated on stories of come-uppance:
Dubai is in the news quite a bit. I'm sure you've read stories of this city in the desert. It seems they wanted to have a bigger and better sin city than Las Vegas. The Dubai World is owned by one man who actually does not have oil on his little stretch of sand, so he thought he would just borrow all the money needed to build this little monument to excess. The world's tallest building, a palm tree island, mega malls everywhere. This particular dream uses about 250 times the carbon footprint to keep those indoor ski hills operating than the US. Their latest use of energy was to cool the scorching sand on the beach so people will not burn their tootsies running to the ocean that now has floating garbage. It seems they forgot to build enough sewer infrastructure, so they just dump raw sewage into the street drainage, and it washes right out to sea. Lovely. Except now the tourists, that are coming less and less, are not allowed to swim in the E-Coli infected waters. It gambled that the world would always have excess money, and that everyone would want to be a part of that particular dream (nightmare?) Only now that money is not so plentiful, Dubai is pretty empty. Maybe now the slave labor that built it can go home.
Nightline did a segment on giant jellyfish invading Japan. This is the ultimate come-uppance in my opinion. Japan has been overfishing for many decades. Using drag nets that kill everything it it's path. They, and others, have not cared one iota what they were doing to the ecosystem of the oceans. Including the vicious killing of dolphins for their ravenous unending demand for all things sea life. Now that they have killed all the predator fish around Japan, a giant jellyfish has invaded and is killing their catches. Hmmm - tofu anyone?
Nightline also did a segment last night on wives that have been left behind by their white-collar criminal husbands as they go to the big house to pay their debt to the society they scammed. The first one was about the wife of Healthsouth's ex-CEO Richard Scrushy. It seemed they were the toast of Birmingham, Alabama, with their own television ministry, 300 million in assets, and two 15,000 sq ft mansions. You always need two of those don't you? But alas, Daddy is going to have to pay back over 3 billion and that will leave little for mansions. They swear he is innocent, however. The second one, Karen Weinreb, had five houses, all lost, unfortunately/fortunately. Her husband was an unscrupulous hedge fund owner. We all know how hedge funds are doing these days. She actually sees now how the excess blinded her to the real world. I guess flying to Milan to buy your clothes can do that...
And last, but not least, I have been a voyeur of the undoing of the Real Housewives of Orange County. Now, I can hear your groan of protest against my very bad taste in television from here, but in my defense, I think these women are a microcosm of the rest of us. No we don't all have enhanced breasts, or wear sequins during the day, nor do we have fake tans all year, but most of us did get caught up one way or another in the decade of excess. It was impossible not to. I watched this program the first season, lost interest, and only recently became fixated once again. My daughter had it on at her house and after only two programs, I was hooked. It is the slow unraveling of their lives that I find fascinating. These women were all about the bling, the clothes, the cars, the botox, the dream of "you are what you own." Of course the program picks women who are less educated, and not nearly on the same scale as the women who had five houses and two mansions, but in their world they fought and struggled to look and be what the media said was beautiful and sophisticated. This season it is all falling apart. The bravado is slipping as their houses lose value, their jobs disappear, their lives become very real. One lady admitted, she was scared. Another dropped out of the program, as I'm sure she didn't want to be followed as she loses her home. Real estate is just not what it used to be in Orange County, and neither is her job selling it.
I think most of us were excessive in some way. Very few of us can cast many stones. Whether buying designer bags or spending too much on our homes, cars, travel, our children, sushi, most of us were not without sin during the decade of excess.
So where am I going with all of this?
I think we needed this decade to usher in the change I see coming. We've been humbled on a global scale. It's not just the United States, but the Mideast, Asia, Europe, Iceland. As someone said regarding Dubai - it is so two years ago! As the middle class disappears due to stagnant wages, rising prices in food and necessities, the world is beginning to see that their livelihood is inextricably tied to those without jobs. Because without them, there is no market for their goods. If we over fish the oceans we will not have fish worth eating. If we continue to drive big SUV's to the supermarket, we will forever be tied to Mideastern countries that use our money to attack us. If the US spends all if it's taxpayer's money on needless wars, there is no money for healthcare and infrastructure. We begin to see limits - to everything. As we focus on the small, we see the world differently. We can emphasize with those so much less fortunate. The veil begins to slip. We begin to look at our world from a global perspective. We are One on this small planet. It is home to all of us, not just those that want to exploit it. I look forward to the next decade. I hope that the decade of excess will usher in the decade of enlightenment.
I am permanently changed. I don't think in my lifetime, I will look at conspicuous consumption in the same way. When I see someone sporting all the bling, I just feel sorry for them. It was so two years ago.