Self-Indulgence and Consumer Spending Habits

One of the more interesting movies in 2008 was an animated Disney Pixar film called WALL-E .

With an estimated budget of $180 million, (and Gross Domestic Revenue of  $224 million), the movie depicts what happens to mankind when it has to leave the Earth they destroyed and live in the  luxury of a huge space ship. Seven hundred years after the earth was abandoned, all that is left on earth to clean up the mess is one little garbage collecting robot (WALL-E) and a cockroach. In contrast, the people in the space craft live a  pampered life, riding around on hovering chairs that give them a constant feed of TV, video chatting, and food. The inactivity has made them all so fat they can barely move.

The movie is actually very funny, and the hero, WALL-E is such a loveable character that I pinned a photo of him on my fridge. But there is no question that the movie is a cautionary tale of what happens to a society when a self-indulgent lifestyle goes awry.

Self-indulgent – indulging one’s own desires, passions, whims, etc., especially without restraint. How much of the American lifestyle can be described as being somewhat self-indulgent? How much of the American lifestyle could lead to the situation described in WALL-E? Here are some statistics I found on the internet about how Americans indulge, or over-indulge. All amounts are on an annual basis, and could vary by a few billion dollars one way or another. (I found conflicting amounts for some items):

1. Sitting and watching things; creating idols (movie, music and sports stars)
$10.5 billion for Hollywood movie ticket sales
$22 billion to support Major league athletes
$11 billion for videos
$10 billion for recorded music
$25 billion for video games
$50 billion for cable TV
$100 billion for consumer electronics to watch and listen to the above

2. Ingesting or inhaling things that aren’t necessarily very healthy;  attempting to fix problems resulting from this:
$110 billion to eat fast foods
$12 billion for coffee at coffee shops
$55 billion for weight loss products
$90 billion for alcohol
$88 billion for cigarettes
$65 billion for illegal drugs
$215 billion for illegal drug health care, justice, lost productivity

3. Trying to look a little bit like the idols created in item #1:
$1.4 billion for botox treatments
$1 million for spray on tans
$1.7 billion for tooth whitening products
$24 billion for skin care products, particularly anti-aging ones
$38 billion for hair care products, particularly hair dyes
$15 billion for perfumes
$18 billion for make-up

4. Sundry other items with dubious merit:
$41 billion for pet care products intended to make pets more human-like
$1 billion for anti-bacterial products  to create a false sense of security
$6.8 trillion in mortgage debt. There is no question that many people financed houses they couldn’t really afford. Some of these homes are still available – in May of 2010, the farm where the filming of Field of Dreams took place, was put up for sale. The193-acre Iowa corn farm with a two-bedroom house, a barn built in the mid-1800s, and baseball diamond built by Universal Studios was listed for $5.4 million. One astute observer asked, “Would the income from 193 acres of corn pay the debt service on $5.4 mil?”

Some portion of these purchases are made with credit cards.  With 610 million credit cards in the hands of approximately 231 million adult Americans (over the age of 20), personal credit card penalties are:
$15 billion for credit card penalty fees.
$77 billion for interest on unpaid balances

Canadians – don’t sit back with a smug smile. We, as a nation, are as self-indulgent as the Americans are. Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t indulge in a few of these things if they can afford them. I’m just saying that at some point self-indulgence leads to self-destructiveness, and I think both of our countries are on the edge of toppling into an  economic and social hole that will be very difficult to get out of.

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