Mr. Microcosm Confesses: How I Killed the Economy

Once in a while you realize that you are a microcosm, even if you have never checked “microcosm” alongside “Caucasian” or “Eurasian” on a census list.

So here’s my microcosmic story about how the American economy ground to a halt, all because I wouldn’t buy that monitor.

About 18 months  ago I found myself looking with envy at a 19-inch monitor in Staples or somewhere.  It was listed around $189, which was high enough to keep it in the Envy Only category. And I didn’t even want to think about the 21-inchers with their glorious displays, checking in at $249 or more even for the brands I’d never heard of, which, I’m aware, may be perfectly fine products that just don’t spend as much on advertising

Anyway,  I vowed, at that price I would just make do with my 17-inch monitor.  And that’s part of the story. There was nothing “wrong” with my year-or-so-old 17. Nice colors, nice contrast, easy on the eyes. So what did the 17 lack? You may have guessed:  It was not a 19 or a 21.  The 19 and 21-inch monitors were. . .more.  They were. . . the next thing. Something else.

But I kept checking the Fry’s and CompUSA inserts in the paper, and as these things always do, the monitor prices gradually dropped. Around Christmas I noticed a 19-er for around $129, but I still held off, thinking, well, with all this economic sturm and drang, or drurm and stang, who knows how low they may go?

And so it came to pass: This past Sunday, Fry’s posted a 19-inch Acer, not a bad brand at all,  for $99, representing an almost $100 drop in the price since I began lusting after watching these toys.

And yet here I sit in front of my old 17-incher. I’ve thought it over, and I may not buy the bigger monitor, even if it drops another few bucks. Why not? I ask myself, and the problem is, another question comes back: Why? Why do I need a new monitor? I really don’t have a compelling answer to that question, and therein, I think, lies at least part of the reason for our current economic stagnation.

I’m not in an economic crisis right now (anymore than usual, he joked). We’ve got about as much money as we had a year ago, except for the now-vanished 401K paper profits. Our job prospects are not markedly worse than before. It just seems like a good moment to think a bit more deliberately about spending. You know, pause just a moment between the stimulus (no pun) and the response.

While the larger monitor might have some objective superiority that I might come to enjoy, if I bought it, the truth is that I mainly wanted it because it was there. It was something to have, so why not have it? But once you find those “reasons” inadequate, once you start to ask tougher questions about your buying–well, gulp, what happens to the economy? What happens once the question becomes: “Why buy anything if your current monitor/jeans/mower/desk lamp/ hunting falcon/fill in blank____ is working fine?”

That’s it in a nutshell. Once we stop asking, “Why not spend?” and start asking, “Why spend?”–who knows where that road leads?

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