A Rant in which I Sound like a Cranky Old Woman

When the Republican Party first formed in the 1850s, it waged war against the "twin pillars of barbarism"---slavery and polygamy. In the eyes of the Republicans, the moral crises of the nineteenth century was centered on the practice of these two acts. By 1900, the Republicans had won their war: the thirteenth amendment outlawed slavery in 1865 while the Mormon Church abolished the practice of polygamy in 1896. The twin pillars had been effectively toppled.

Now in 2006, some Americans would assert that the twin pillars of barbarism have returned---this time in the form of abortion and gay marriage. Religious conservatives decry the legalization of abortion and are lobbying for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Gay marriage is viewed as a mockery of the traditional union between a man and a woman. Once again, the Republican Party has waged war against these moral pillars of "barbarism." On the other side of the battle, liberal Democrats condemn limitations on abortion and view South Dakota's House Bill 1215 as a slap in the face. They also support the legalization of gay marriage, citing that marriage is a right that homosexuals should not be denied.

As the mud-slinging ensues, the true pillar of barbarism wrecks havoc in our daily lives. It is a disease that can affect any American, regardless of race, sex, age, or sexual orientation. It doesn't care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you support abortion and gay marriage or oppose them. The symptoms are always the same: bloodshot eyes filled with dollar signs, an appetite for luxury, a growing canker of economic inequality, and a nation filled with cold hearts and I-deserve-it attitudes. Diagnosis: greed.

In 1990, the Census Bureau reported that the richest one-fifth of American households received almost twelve times the income of the bottom one-fifth of the population. In a report conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, economist Eric Wolff cites that the upper crust of Americans (the top-half of one percent) saw a 26% increase in their average net wealth between 1983 and 1989. On the other hand, the net wealth of the bottom 80 percent of Americans went down by an average of 6 percent over the same period. The rich are getting richer and they don't like spreading the wealth.

Like a tick, materialism has sunk its deep fangs into our daily lives. Television shows and movies project the slogan, "Less isn't more; more is more." Shows like MTV "Cribs" gives us an inside look into Master P's gold-plated bathroom, G-Unit's pimped out Hummer, and Shaq's indoor basketball court. On the teen romp, "My Super Sweet 16," participants spend tens of thousands of dollars to throw a glorified birthday party. Depending on the wealth of their parents, the costs for the party can exceed a hundred-thousand dollars. For these brats, a pony just won't do.

Filthy-rich celebrities and spoiled teens are not the only Americans spending their money like it's no tomorrow. My 14 year-old sister is currently a freshman in high school and all of her friends have cell phones, iPods, and Seven jeans. When I attended high school, many of my classmates received a new car on their birthdays. Growing up, we went to a ward where many of the members owned two homes and drove to church every Sunday in their BMWs and Lexuses. Years ago Americans were encouraged to "save, save, save," but now we have replaced this motto with "have, have, have."

In order to have, have, have, we are required to spend a lot of money---sometimes all of it. In China, the personal savings rate is more than 40 percent; but among Americans it is less than zero. Credit card debt plagues our nation.When I was at BYU, I often heard that Utahns had one of the highest amounts of debt in the country. Many of my friends attributed this statistic to the high number of young newlyweds who maxed-out their plastic at RC Willey to furnish their apartments. And this past October when I flew from Salt Lake to Baltimore, I sat next to a man from Sandy who lamented about his neighbors and how they tried to "one-up" one another: fancy cars in the driveway, a heated pool in the backyard, and a membership to an elite country club. Forget about keeping up with the Jones's---they wanted to be the Jones's.

Americans are increasingly associating materialism with happiness. We clock in hours at work to gain promotions and bonuses while we dole out our childrearing responsibilities to a nanny. We spend money on fancy vacations and luxuries while people around us are hungry and homeless. Even worse, we tend to look down on the poorer classes, equating their economic status with laziness and stupidity. Yet in Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich, who spent several months trying to make a living as a blue-collar worker, noted that her co-workers often had to hold down two full-time jobs to make ends meet. Now if a sixteen-hour work day is considered lazy, then I have no idea what my eight-hour work day would be considered to be. Comatose?

And not only do we snub our noses at the poor, we justify our expenditures with excuses like, "Well, I earned this money fair and square. My money should be spent on my needs." Honestly, we are beginning to sound like a bunch of kindergarteners. Hording our crayons is selfish and just plain mean when little Jane doesn't have anything to color with. As professor Richard Johnson of BYU has noted, "We deny the obvious truth that there is always a more Christian use for money that is spent self-indulgently."

Of course, I don't believe that we should all subscribe to a life of asceticism and abandon our homes for tents. It is not wrong to make a lot of money and it is not wrong to spend money on yourself. If we worked hard for our salaries, then we should deserve a little bonus for it: a new pair of shoes, a new laptop to replace an old one, or a vacation to Hawaii perhaps. But too often we come to worship these "little bonuses" and they quickly metamorph from shoes and a laptop to a Bentley and a second home. Again, it is not wrong to spend money on yourself, but it is wrong to be selfish with it. Human beings require so little for survival and so much happiness can be gained by helping our fellow man.

I too suffer from greed. Indeed, I tackle this issue with a passion because I'm trying to banish greed from my own life. Too often do I receive a paycheck and I head to the mall. Too often do I pass a homeless person on the street and fail to open my purse. And too often do I dream of elaborate vacations and fancy cars instead of concocting what charity I should send money to. We could all live with a little less and we could all give a little more---especially me.