Thursday, October 31, 2013

$250 Belts? $2,500 Handbags? Racial Profiling and "Shopping While Black" are Wrong. But, the Relationship Between Conspicuous Consumption and Low Levels of Black Wealth is a Far More Important Issue

Trayon Christian was racially profiled while buying a $250 belt at Barneys. Kayla Phillips was accosted by police after buying a $2,500 handbag from the same store. Their treatment is unacceptable.

Racial profiling is wrong—it is also ineffective at preventing crime. Al Sharpton is correct in his efforts to defend the basic right of individuals to shop while be treated equally and fairly—regardless of their skin color.

The United States has been described as a “consumer’s republic”; capitalism, democracy, and the right to participate in the marketplace are conflated with full citizenship in this country. As such, the phenomenon which has come to be known as “shopping while black”, reinforces, through racism and classism, a belief that people of color are perpetual outsiders and a type of Other in American society.

However, in locating the experience of “shopping while black” within a broader social, historical, and political context, we must also confront a very uncomfortable and challenging question.

Of course, Christian and Phillips should not have been discriminated against because they were black and shopping at a luxury store. But, what do the choices by two young people to spend hundreds of dollars on a belt, and thousands of dollars on a handbag, reveal about the impact of conspicuous consumption on the black community’s economic health?

Blacks in the United States possess significantly less wealth and earnings than their white counterparts across all class levels. African-Americans possess approximately 10 cents in wealth for every $2.00 in wealth owned by whites. Black women in the 36 to 49 year old age range have a net worth of 5 dollars. White women in the same cohort have a net worth of 40,000 dollars.

These wealth disparities are a result of centuries of public policy in the United States where white wealth creation was subsidized by the State, and economic resources and opportunities have been systematically denied to people of color.

For example, the Homestead Act, the FHA and VA home loan programs, as well as the G.I. Bill, created untold billions of dollars in wealth for white people while denying non-whites access to the same opportunities.

Because of discrimination in the labor market, black Americans do not receive the same return of investment on their educations as comparably (or even in some cases, less) educated whites. Even ostensibly “race neutral” polices such as “last hired, first fired” have caused disproportionate harm to people of color, as they have long been denied access to jobs by racist hiring practices--yet, black and brown workers are the first to be dismissed when the economy contracts.

Systematic housing segregation means that black communities are also less resourced as compared to comparable white communities.

Three centuries of chattel slavery robbed African-Americans of at least 20 trillion dollars of labor and income.

Wealth is inter-generational. The sum effect of centuries of economic disenfranchisement from the past to the present is that the black community is both wealth and income poor.

America’s system of racial Apartheid was also an active form of economic exploitation against non-whites.

African-Americans who choose to purchase $350 belts and $2,500 handbags are not responsible for the structural inequalities which have produced the stunning lack of wealth held by Black America. However, such aggregate choices by individual African-Americans do contribute to the racial wealth gap because each dollar put into overpriced clothing, cars, jewelry, electronic goods, etc. are fewer resources put into savings and investment.

Why would members of a group that is poor in wealth, and comparatively disadvantaged in terms of income, spend their resources on expensive consumer goods as opposed to investment or saving?

America is a hyper-consumerist society. As such, few if any of its members are immune from consumerism, or the psychic and emotional rewards that come from shopping. Nevertheless, we can try to detail the particular dynamics which influence how members of a given group choose to spend their money.

Consumer behavior is a type of signaling game. Poor people are in competition with other poor people in their community for prestige. Likewise, middle class and rich people also participate in an economic signaling game with their peers. However, poor people are not competing with rich people because they do not have the resources to effectively do so. Consequently, a poor black single mother in a ghetto underclass community may see it as a perfectly “rational” behavior to spend hundreds of dollars on a toddler’s sneakers and jeans.

Alternatively, a middle aged black working class man may judge it “rational” to spend 600 dollars a month to lease a luxury car--even when he does not own his own home. Neither of them can reasonably compete with a rich person who signals success to his or her peers by expanding their home and land, buying expensive art, or investing in the stock market.

America’s racial Apartheid has had a profound impact on the black community's economic behavior.

Historically, African-Americans have been victims of white racial terrorism which was focused on destroying symbols of black prosperity (see: Tulsa, Oklahoma, otherwise known as “Black Wall Street”); they faced discrimination in the labor market through Jim and Jane Crow; blacks have been punished, through violence, by whites daring to accrue wealth. The sum effect is that consumer goods have come to be seen by no small number of black Americans as a type of “investment”.

A new car, expensive clothes and jewelry, or electronics are portable and visible. These goods and practices signal a sense of one’s material “success” and “value” to their peers, and perhaps even to a broader white society that devalues the personhood of black and brown people.

Unfortunately, the black community’s participation in this economic signaling game comes at a steep price.

According to data from the Nielsen Foundation and the National Newspaper Publishing Association, Black Americans spend approximately 1 trillion dollars a year. 99.5 percent of this money immediately leaves the black community. By comparison, a dollar spent by an Asian-American in their community will circulate 9.5 times before it goes to a member of another racial group. A dollar spent within the white community will circulate 8 times before it exits.

Black Americans are the most affluent members of the Black Diaspora. If Black Americans were a “country”, they would rank 16th in the world in terms of GDP. Black Americans also have the most “spending power” of any group in the United States: they are a money pump for the country’s economy of the while possessing very little of its wealth.

Concerns about the spending patterns and habits of the black poor—and the black community more generally—have been central to the politics of “black respectability” from the 19th century to the present.

Much of what has been described by its critics as the “class policing” of the black poor and lower classes by black elites, operates from an assumption that the former lack impulse control, and are focused on short-term thinking, as opposed to the long-term decision-making which is synonymous with self-control, civic virtue, and a “proper” American and “middle class” identity.

This narrative is important and should be acknowledged. However, I would still suggest that African-American leaders need to develop an agenda centered on entrepreneurship and wealth creation—and part of this plan should involve a discussion of the economic harm done to the black community by conspicuous consumption and wasteful spending in the post-civil rights era.

“Shopping while black” is an affront and an insult: however, it is a comparatively minor social justice challenge when compared to the racial wealth gap in the United States. If the “Civil Rights Establishment” wants to remain relevant, their efforts should be focused more on the second problem, and much less on the first.

I am sorry that Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips were harassed while spending hundreds, and thousands of dollars, respectively, on a belt and a handbag. As an African-American who has been racially profiled while shopping, driving, boarding airplanes, and walking down the street, I can most certainly empathize with their experience and hurt.

I hope that Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips learn from their experience of “shopping while black”, and put their money that would otherwise be spent on luxury goods into the bank, the stock market, or some other type of financial instrument or entrepreneurial project which will accrue and grow wealth.

The long Civil Rights Movement had a powerful slogan, "don't shop where you can't work". In the Age of Obama, a corollary should be added to that rule: black folks should stop spending so much money on shopping, and start saving and investing instead.


Bryan Ortez said...

Interesting commentary and thank you for the brief history of the creation of white economic advantage.

I have an aversion to criticizing others for making luxury purchases such as these. Lower income people often make luxury purchases such as video game consoles, televisions, expensive car adornments or furnishings. Many people will bury themselves in debt just to get the new car, new furniture, and new home. All of these things become a burden and come with their own credit cards from every store you can buy these things from.

My first luxury items, and kind of my only luxury items, were tattoos. I have a lot of them and I think I have probably spent approximately $2000 for them over the course of several years.

I suppose that $2,000 could have been better spent saving, but honestly it would have been burnt up in any emergency situation I have had. I have made the best out of my savings despite not having that 2 grand.

I'm curious. What were some of your first luxury items?

unvarnished said...

The fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of high-end retail shop lifting, flash boosting and credit and debit card fraud involves black perpetrators. White folks perpetrate rather differently in these stores, committing their theft and fraud through either shoplifting, or "borrowing and wearing" and with receipts.

Any retail loss management professional can easily corroborate that fact. As is nearly universally the case, the road has been made hard for imprudent, trifling, and untrained young negroes shopping to cope with their lack of meaning and value, by trifling hood trash which constantly criminally perpetrates in very stereotypical ways and sets the mold for innocent though stupid others.

The lack of self-discipline and goals demonstrated in sharp contrast with illegal mexicans who do scant little of this mess, cause they're in the periphery and on a mission, underscores the epic failure of contemporary black culture and leadership. The fact that the pseudo-intelligentsia speaks on behalf of the low-caste riff-raff and on behalf of the imprudent and undisciplined behavior is indicative of the degenerate and valueless state to which same said pseudo-intelligentsia has itself fallen.

Burto Alto said...

I've had this conversation in the past with older black men. An easy way bridge the age gap for me was to remind them the luxury items of their years. 50's thru have taught the next generation the same patterns. This isn't new. Now @ unvarnished I spent my 20's working for Macy's LP. Theft is a regional thing. You may work in an area of "trifling, and untrained young negroes", but in Miami they stop larger numbers of middle age Cubans. In Texas it's Mexicans near the border but over the country it's middleclass white women that are the largest number of retail theft.

Bryan Ortez said...

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

"the road has been made hard... by trifling hood trash which constantly criminally perpetrates in very stereotypical ways and sets the mold for... others."

Can you see how when you say that the road has been made hard for some black people by other black people who fulfill the stereotypes that most white people grow up internalizing about black people is the exact opposite of the desire of King and others who have taken these words to heart?

It sounds as if you are suggesting that profiling black Americans in this way is accepted because other black Americans have painted the color of their skin with the bad content of their character.

chauncey devega said...

There are many misconceptions about shoplifting. There was a great piece in the New Yorker a few years ago which featured one of the foremost store security experts in the country--he was a former FBI agent turned consultant. His data and experience suggested most theft came from insiders, i.e. employees. The next group that staff should be trained to "profile" are white men in business suits and older white women. He explained how he was always surprised at the resistance he would get from this suggestion. It has to be black people or other minorities was "common sense". Common sense was wrong--the pros are in those two groups because they know they can operate with impunity.

chauncey devega said...

As you can see I deleted one of our recurring trolls. See my above comment.

skilletblonde said...

One of the things I remember about 9-11 was a story that was featured in our local newspapers. It was about one of the female casualties. As she lay dead, the article gave a detail description of her designer clothing and accessories. Obviously, the message here was her high-end fashioned corpse was better than the others.

This is an overriding theme throughout the savage capitalistic state we live in. You are nothing unless you drive this car, have this house, or wear these clothes. African Americans have always had somewhat of an obsession with styles of dress and hair. Indeed we have swallowed the narrative of Madison Avenue. We love the pomp and circumstance. However, I think some of it is in response to the unyielding degradation we receive in this country. Unfortunately, this form of shallow self-esteem is fleeting. Nor does it encourage real growth.

I have a friend who had no problem spending 300.00 dollars for a video game system for her son. After all, you're not a good parent unless you can buy your child what the market dictates. Never mind on paper she is poor. However her son is 25 years-old today-and reads at a second grade level.

Under no circumstances will you convince her that she hasn't been a good mother. Her son was equipped with the expensive sneakers, clothes and video games. Yet, other than a camping trip around the age of 12, the boy has never left the state of Ohio. His mother,driving him to the camp saw something she had not seen in her entire life. It was a ship. I felt a deep sadness.

chauncey devega said...

That is the freedom of youth. But young people still need mentoring about how those choices will impact them today. I, and I am not alone on this, will be paying for many of my poor choices during my youth for many years. As is life. Hopefully, some good choices will accrue interest.

I remember really wanting that 300 dollar MJ Thriller jacket from Macy's. My mother said it was a piece of junk and not worth it. She was right. One of my friends got it for Xmas, it rained, the jacket fell apart.

I don't know if I ever was a conspicuous spender. I spent too much money on various hobbies comic books, video games, etc. I think my one big splurge item would be buying my DJ equipment in college and all of the records over the years. But then again, that mostly paid for itself over time.

These ideas of conspicuous consumption and habitus have been written about for a long time. I am very interested in how notions of style, fashion, and consumption are related to issues of power, resistance, and self-esteem. I write about that in my own work elsewhere; I just really want to know what folks are thinking when they don't have a proverbial pot to piss in but have on 500 dollar shoes, 2 iphones, overpriced jewelry and the like. But, maybe that is the point?

I have an acquaintance who couldn't pay his rent but purchased 300 dollar pajamas. Boggles the mind.

chauncey devega said...

That almost makes me cry. Talk about a poverty of the mind and life experiences. Did seeing that boat and taking that trip make her want to travel more, expand her horizons, etc?

Buddy H said...

Near my house there are several "rent to own" places. They target lower-income people who think they are getting a good deal by paying a little bit up front for TVs, appliances, furniture. But if you do the math, the weekly payments, the interest, etc. make the "cheap" items twice as expensive as if they were purchased outright. A reporter for a local weekly newspaper tried to write an expose. He went into one of the rent to own places and tried to question them about their dishonest tactics. He was chased out of the store, almost physically attacked.

Learning is Eternal said...

I've always shopped for the quality of a product than a label. I can't get enough of wal-mart T-shirts w/comic or video game characters from yesteryear yet I have high end fashion as well. I buy these items on sale but I know this doesn't piss off high end retailers like it does Apple when people buy less expensive/old I-phones.

An investment would better suit the needs of anyone rather than shortsighted wants that depreciate in value once worn. Homes have equity and land will never go out of style. Land/property is something to be targeted being the promise of slavery was reneged upon and how they forced black farmers into service in WW's only to have the united snakes gubb'ment steal their land while fighting for a corporation **cough** country that never has fought for or protected nonwhite denizens.

I wish/would like a place or places that were low & high end yet owned by us that way the dollar is recycled back into the black/brown commune then we wouldn't have to patron stores & or designers who would rather see us not. But you also have a group of people who would think it's not "Da' Shit" if it's not european in some form. That's a story & comment for another day. Carry on.

vintagepeugeot said...

Thank you for writing this. It was the exact same thought I had when I read about this on ColorOfChange. While no on should be profiled, by buying into our culture of consumerism, we're only setting ourselves further back since we don't have money. Chris Rock said there's a few rich black people, but no wealthy ones. $350 for a belt or $2500 for a purse is ridiculous. Sorry, not sorry.

I took a class on the culture of poverty once and apparently multi-generaltional poor people believe love is shown through possessions. So a school with free-lunch kids will all be wearing expensive sneakers.

My luxury vice currently are bicycles. I'm saving up for a new steed now, but I ride every weekend and race. Maybe I'll get sponsored and will have things given to me. You gotta dream.

indieblack said...

This is a really good post. I think the main idea that I gleaned from it, is that, historically, black people have not been allowed to maintain their economic power. That is, from your two examples "Black Wall Street" and Chris Rock's documentary, one can see that black people were violently coerced or experienced barrier to entry (beauty supply stores are predominately owned by Asians, and they actively keep black people from owning stores. Moreover, they manage distribution, have trade magazines in their language--all of these things to keep others out.)

And, sure, Black leaders should speak on this more. I think that they used to call for boycotts in the 1980s--I'm not sure this would do anything today. But Black people (me included) do need more economic discipline.

Black people buy expensive things to say "Look at me! I am here!" Also, simply, it makes one feel good. I am definitely guilty of buying things instead of saving for an experience. And that is the rub. I didn't learn about saving for an experience--like travel. I didn't learn this lesson until I became an adult. And I've built up some bad habits, so it's a battle.

Lastly, if the people around you think that the most important thing is a $2,500 bag or $400 belt, it's difficult to reach beyond that (unless you meet a really great mentor.) That money could have gone toward a round-trip plane ticket or a class at a junior college.

Thank you!

unshellacked said...

No BO, I didn't say any such mushmouthed thing. Rather, I said quite plainly that in high-end retail stores like Barney's, a disproportionate percentage of the fraud and shoplifting is perpetrated by young trifling trash. The loss prevention being executed at that store simply reflects the facts on the ground at that store, densepack denials and reality evasions by the pseudo-intelligentsia notwithstanding.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Being foolish with money is probably as much a function of youth as it is of other circumstances. I blush to consider how long in the tooth I was before I finally got serious about my finances--especially given how much my Depression-children parents did without, to launch me into gainful adulthood.

Being foolish with money is also rooted in poverty itself. In the 18th Century Adam Smith wrote of the British poor and their "love of present ease". Learning the discipline of deferred gratification is hard, and many never do.

I liked a story I read one time, about a man who bought a Jaguar. After owning it for awhile he finally concluded that all the heads turning were former Jag owners having a good laugh at him.

Bryan Ortez said...

I've been a pretty big critic of consumption for most of my adult life, which is part of the reason most of my extra spending has gone to tattoos instead of other things.

You are right that getting some fancy jacket that has been endorsed by a celebrity is generally just not worth it, at least I would agree with that, but I think it is just part of being an American that we make these decisions to purchase such products for ourselves for style and fashion.

I think it gives people confidence. Trayon or Kayla may have spent a lot of time saving up for these special items. Trayon a young college student could be trying to impress some people, maybe a romantic interest. It's something we all do a little of from time to time, some more than others.

I have a family member whose spending habits have always given me pause. When he was 18 he took out a credit card and immediately ran up more debt than he could afford. I think he still spends more than he should to this day.

I am askance with things like this, and to no criticism of you because I don't think you are doing this, because often people will criticize lower income people for their financial indiscretions when I think those indiscretions are largely imagined. Recently I had some words with a friend when he posted some Bill Cosby quote about lower income black people complaining about racism and stuff while they name their kids Shaniqua and buy $200 shoes instead of Hooked on Phonics.

I get what you are saying about the wealth gap and conspicuous consumption.

chauncey devega said...

You know my position on the 'Cos--he was telling the truth; folks got made because they couldn't handle it.

I am not much above being poor myself and grew up working class. I wish my parents made better decisions, and then passed those good habits and decisions down to me.

Lots of knowing what to do about money comes from having money, being in those circles, and/or taking the time to educate yourself about finance and money. I have a list of about 5 to 10 money related things I wish I could have done better. We don't have time machines; thus best to make changes now and for the future.

Bryan Ortez said...

Most everybody has indulgences they fulfill. Whether they want to drink every night or weekends, smoke cigarettes every day, maybe even some illegal drugs. Others maybe just like eating out at restaurants and going to movie theaters or concerts and other forms of entertainment. These usually fall under regular types of expenditures. People will seek to use their money to fulfill those indulgences however they can sometimes to the detriment of their finances.

Wealthier people can afford most of these more daily indulgences without losing their saving ability. So to encourage that saver mentality among lower socioeconomic folks, we have to forego our self indulging desires. It can be tough, but I think often we do succeed at curbing our desires to match our personal budget.

I know that some people do make piss poor financial decisions in the face of making better saving decisions for themselves or their children. no doubt about it if your child is struggling in school and you decide to spend more money on clothes instead private tutoring lessons or some other assistance you're priority is not providing an education but keeping their ego secure in this moment.

I wish I had a little better capability to explain what my problem with the Cosby thing was... For me I think it comes down to scapegoating a group of people when the problem of consumption culture is much larger than lower socioeconomic people and the problem of the wealth gap is much larger

OldPolarBear said...

I can definitely see what you are getting at here, especially your last graf. In general, it seems sometimes like we are consuming ourselves, and the planet, to death. It does seem especially unfortunate that people who have so little will spend on extravagances, no matter their race. It is an observed phenomenon that poor people, for example, are much more likely to insist on buying brand-name products rather than the exact, same, generic or store-brand equivalent.

There is an expression, "if it's on your ass, it's not an asset" that is
often used by bloggers and speakers talking about thrift, saving, etc. I
first heard it several years ago in a 60 Minutes segment on Robert L.
Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television. He is described
in Wikipedia as "the first black billionaire." I don't know if he
originated the saying, but he apparently had made it something of a
cause to try and encourage thrift and entrepreneurism in black youth and
said it often in his speeches. Of course, commercial television's bread
and butter is making people want expensive things they don't need, so
maybe he was being a little hypocritical. The whole purpose of most media, both advertising and program content, is to sell stuff.

Also, our economic system is not set up to encourage savings and investment, but rather consumption. Savings accounts pay less interest than the rate of inflation, so spending money in hand may actually make more sense than trying to save it. If one is barely getting by and has only a tiny bit of money left over to save, the amount of time it will take to save a significant amount is so daunting that it is more tempting to spend it. Still, I generally agree that a $250 belt or $2500 handbag are probably not the best choices, unless you are really rich.

Learning is Eternal said...

Can you share these 5 to 10 money related things? If you don't want to elaborate that's fine. Any knowledge about finance is helpful.

Houston Murphy said...

My first big splurge was the purchase of my first piece of
real estate when I was 16. I come from
landed Black folk and I wanted to be one too.
My dad gave me permission; he and I walked through it together. He asked me what I planned on doing with it
and I told him I wanted to rent it out. I
had some experience with building maintenance at that age but I found out I
didn’t know as much as I thought. It was a foreclosure and the price was within
my means - $1,863.64 (bought outright from savings from newspaper route, grass
cutting, handy man stuff, etc.). This
was a long time ago, by the way. That
purchase was a nightmare and a real awakening. I won the auction and proceeded to make the
necessary repairs – front and rear door locks, a few window panes replaced,
broom sweep, mop, new kitchen floor tiles installed, etc. Once I thought I was finished, I posted a for
rent sign on the front of the row house and posted my ad in the newspaper and
waited for responses. The first response
was vandalism. The second response was
from neighbors about the debris someone dumped in the back yard. The third was
a City inspector and the forth was from the ground rent owner. I sold it for a modest ($250.00) profit after
expenses in under a year. I have never
been without owning real estate but I have been without a car.

skilletblonde said...

No Chauncey. She has convinced herself that life is a big screen television with a mountain of DVD's.

chauncey devega said...

Check cashing and rent to own are predators on the poor. But, in a consumerist economy with flat wages, I can understand the temptation. It is hard out there brother.

chauncey devega said...

What do you think is stopping black folks from opening out own businesses more? We certainly are very entrepreneurial. Is it internalized racism, under-capitalization, lack of support from the community, being preyed upon by the knuckleheads if we choose to build in said working class or poor community?

chauncey devega said...

Ride, ride, ride. Good for your health. Dreams are great too. I have nothing against indulgences. We have to live. But, when you have no investments, money in the bank, rainy day money, etc. and you want to profile and stunt via clothes and the like, there has to be an intervention.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you for the kind comments. You wrote this:

"Lastly, if the people around you think that the most important thing is a $2,500 bag or $400 belt, it's difficult to reach beyond that (unless you meet a really great mentor.) That money could have gone toward a round-trip plane ticket or a class at a junior college."

Where do folks find these mentors? And if you live in a small social network with folks who have similar habits what shall you do?

chauncey devega said...

In capitalist systems observations about poverty are also claims on morality. Not surprisingly, some of the most immoral people are the rich. Research in psychology about theft, cheating, and what we see about their criminal behavior supports such a claim.

Maybe the problem is that poor people are too damn moral?

chauncey devega said...

I bet you learned alot. Your pops was a great man to let you have that lesson. Do share your wisdom.

chauncey devega said...

What you offered here is some real talk.

I love this:

"There is an expression, "if it's on your ass, it's not an asset" that is often used by bloggers and speakers talking about thrift, saving, etc"

I will look up Johnson's talk.

Learning is Eternal said...

Your right, we are very entrepreneurial. Imagine the star power used if the likes of Jay-Z had an exclusive deal w/a black owned enterprise rather than Barney's. Making a local or regional retailer bigger. Macy's, etc. dont need that type of push. That's one of the small steps we could do to highlight & expand a small business into a major player amongst ouselves. Sankofa. I know FUBU played out but I was proud back then to explain to nonblack folk that it was For Us By Us when asked. The resources are there. We are/our dollars are an endothermic reaction ready to blow.

OldPolarBear said...

Thanks. I think it was him, and on 60 Minutes. I just tried to do some searching and am not having much luck.

SabrinaBee said...

Pretty good article. Not much I can add here. It is puzzling that the
only thing that previously gave leverage when fighting against
injustice, is thrown away so readily nowadays. Consumerism and religion,
two things that offer the least for blacks, are what seems to be the
things that are embraced wholeheartedly. Is there a correlation?
Probably could be added to the concept of prestige within the community.
There is a vested interest in showing how "blessed" one is. I mean, as
long as we are looking at possible causes...

Aiguille said...

Ralph Cintron talked a little about conspicuous consumption in context of a Latino neighborhood in his ethnography Angel's Town, which might partly explain the observation in the Wharton link that poor people in poor communities spend more on visible goods than those in wealthy ones. Cintron didn't seem to think it was entirely about keeping up with the Joneses like the Wharton link assumes. Wealthy communities have the money to maintain well-kept roads, building exteriors, gardens, sidewalks, parks and public buildings and aren't willfully neglected by the city in any number of ways. For a poor person living in a wealthy neighborhood, there's much less of a visual diet of decay (or what one of Cintron's subjects self-consciously called the "raggedy"-ness of his neighborhood) to take a psychological toll, which is then temporarily remedied by consumption of Veblen goods, which are something to take pride in. Not an excuse, but an explanation Cintron provided.

Cavoyo said...

For some people, there may be no difference between conspicuous consumption and investment:

chauncey devega said...

That is the sad part huh? A big screen TV or car is not an investment it depreciates immediately and generally cannot help to create future wealth. Unfortunately, lots of folks don't understand that fact.

Houston Murphy said...

Mentoring will only go so far; I have told my mentees to take ownership of their lives and futures in as many ways as possible. Visualize who and what you will be every day and make your dream come true! Visualize beyond the barrier and sooner or later, it will be behind you. Out of a dozen one-on-one mentees, I'm batting at about 50% on my vision of their success, but, 1) what would have happened if I hadn't done anything at all? And 2) who am I to judge their success?

Houston Murphy said...

Here are a couple of rules I tell my mentees:
1. each payday, pay your future a minimum of 10% in an account you do not touch unless the result of taking it out nets you more than 10% profit.
2. buy nothing that is not on sale and is not a fad iten - buy classic items that will not go out of style.
3. when shopping for food, make a list and stick with it.
4. do not buy on impulse or whim.
5. do not gamble with money you cannot afford to loose or don't gamble at all.
6. acquire a hobby that costs little or nothing and can potentially earn you extra income (I review books I read and get a modest return).
7. out of 30 days, only eat out once, which implies, learn how to cook (which got me more play from the sisters than taking them out to a restaurant AND didn't cost me as much).

OldPolarBear said...

This thread is kind of old, but I just read this today, linked to from another blog: it is another take on this issue that makes some sense. It describes one reason people might overspend on a few things.

I had also not thought about this for a long time until I read the above-linked piece, but I had a friend who had a placard or small poster in his work cubicle that said, "The key to making a million dollars is looking like you already made it." I don't know who originated it, but I used to kind of think that is was some empty, Dale-Carnegie-inspired bullshit, but it does make a certain amount of sense in the context of our cultural and economic system, even if it might be somewhat simplistic.