The Real Big Social Bubble

Commerce and consumption and social stress near the limit?

We may be entering times of great social unrest. There are too many corporations, selling too many products, with too many varieties, too aggressively!

We, who are able to, are consuming too much, resulting great waste and pollution.

There has been some talk of a long term commercial bubble that is strained considerably and about to burst. Perhaps like previous occurrences when business, markets and spending were pushed too high by investment, business and consumer recklessness. They then slumped and later returned to a more normal trend line. While we may again repeat that cycle there is also concern circulating about double dipping to yet new lows and perhaps worse.

Much of the populace is in worry mode about finances, family, and the environment and what lies ahead for our lifestyles and the world in general. These are both confusing and stressful times if we consider some of the negative trends in the way commerce, government and people are acting and interacting. The circumstances this time might be quite different than in earlier serious setbacks as there have been so many social changes for so many years, both positive and negative.

In my 77 years I have seen so many great advances made in living standards, for most; yet there has not been accompanying success in attaining greater social happiness, world peace or eliminating poverty. Over the past decades in the developed world, our society has turned into a consumption monster where more is never enough. So many excesses have been pumped into the way we live under the intense pressure applied by corporate marketing. Commercial interests are now always in the forefront 'encouraging' us onward.

Have we come too far down the wrong path for a gentle turnaround?

The ideology of free enterprise is total devotion to maximizing profits in any manner allowed and increasingly without fairness. There is also a lack of effective laws to control unethical business practices, or the will to enforce those that exist. This infected free enterprise system is allowed to grow with little obstruction and in such a way that social abuse for personal or corporate gain becomes more acceptable with each passing year. Competition for consumers' money, to increase shareholder value, is always a priority. This has some very undesirable effects on society as corporate methods intensify and become less ethical.

The overall results are obvious. We are living in an era of ongoing dissatisfaction with what we have, and with what we must have. We have been told over and over that we need more stuff - and we believe it. Most of us. We are going to pay the price for allowing this, in our living standard values, and with world social distress and environmental deterioration.

Democracy's 'free enterprise' has been too free as it has allowed the corporate world to design our social habits and standards to their liking and financial benefits. We have been programmed to always expect more, much of which is non-essential or promotes unhealthy or stressful living and resulting in great amounts of waste being dumped every day.

Too many, too large corporations are producing and marketing too many goods and services that do not make life better or may even be harmful. The costs of material and wages are wasted when the production is unneeded whereas they could be directed to producing more goods and services that have social and family values, such as in education, health, peace, poverty assistance and world friendly projects. Regularly today newer products and services are unimproved, of poor quality, defective or unworkable and simple junk. But too often it can be sold for no good purpose other than for profit, depleting and spoiling our world's natural resources needlessly.

Can pumping money into a faltering enterprise system, to encourage more buying to boost the economy and markets really help society? Perhaps.

But we must consider some of the material things that are now aggressively merchandised that are excessive in quantity, size, style and cost; proud possessions such as cars, homes, clothes, appliances, gadgets and toys. Increasingly these have too many features so they can be proclaimed 'New and Improved'. There are too many varieties of too many products, which might not differ significantly but will waste more retail space and fill our shelves at home, perhaps to be trashed unused.

And while exorbitant riches may come from this and be too easily or unjustly accumulated for some, others in this world live in devastating and cruel poverty.

A more valued, equitably distributed lifestyle lies ahead for the world's citizens, but not with the underlying commercial and political strategies of today.

Perhaps we will continue this trend another decade or more until it no longer holds together. An unfortunate outcome, but at some point in time consumers will have had enough. They will become dissatisfied with democracy's hang-ups and begin to regret life's stresses used in the processes of acquiring those things which do not make for a better life at all. In very recent years there has been a backlash slowly arising. The serious issues of global warming and environmental deterioration have had increased attention that will hopefully expand significantly.

But to fix this once and for all we also need to return to a more rational way of existing that is satisfying and fair to all, and sustainable. We cannot continue with our high flying market-consume way of living if we want a society that we can feel good about. Simpler living is one prescription, from the super rich corporate executives, athletes and entertainers, down to so many middle class citizens we need to downsize our artificial desires. And the lives of the unfortunate lower class must be improved and poverty eliminated.

This will require a new way of thinking about ourselves and our place in the world and it will be necessary for citizens to voice their dissatisfaction with the commercially oriented society. We must insist on strong and innovative systems of government for all that do not favor corporations and the elite.

Consumers will become dissatisfied with democracy's hang-ups and begin to regret life's stresses used in the processes of acquiring those things which do not make for a better life at all. In very recent years there has been a backlash slowly arising. The serious issues of global warming and environmental deterioration have received increased attention in recent years and hopefully will become mainstream in future social planning.

But restoring normalcy to the artificial aspects of our way of living will involve less commercialism and consumption. Outlawing excessive and deceptive or harmful advertising would be a good start towards long term social healing. Imagine the changes if there were strict regulations in place, with goods and services purchased more wisely, not by persuasion but out of necessity or by word-of-mouth recommendation.

Marketing and consumerism are due for severe trimming, in this decade or perhaps much further on. Profits will shrink, businesses will suffer and markets will drop as we begin to return to a more natural existence.

Sooner or later, quickly and harshly, or gently over time, a simpler and happier society lies ahead.

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Business in Bad Faith

A Crumbling Corporate-Consumer Relationship
Scamming today's consumers appears to be an increasing and ongoing trend in the manner of doing business. Consumers are being abused at various levels of marketing, sales, product quality and support. It is a common buyer experience to make a purchase only to discover that it is not as was presented by the seller, and that there is little or no recourse. Nor is it much of a corporate public relations concern anymore - everyone else is doing it and there are no repercussions worth worrying about.

More often than not, with costly transactions it is not impossible to find someone to write to, or to complain to in person. If there is, frustrated purchasers are easily turned away with scripted words of fluff.

"... the advertisement meets all legal requirements."
"... subject to the ethical standards in the industry."
"... our intent has never been to mislead and I believe our practices are . . ."

Purchasing products or services that increasingly turn out to be much less than what was expected for the price, or just no good at all, is part of the business model. It is commonly expected and too often accepted by shoppers. A tricked buyer's only reaction might be; "It was stupid of me to fall for that one!" And the retailer rings up another bit of profit in yet another underhanded transaction.

So many clever and deceitful techniques flourish in the market place with new ones appearing regularly. Double-dealing is a creative booming business.

I have read of large retailers that were fined for unethical marketing practices like bait and switch. In this scenario you are attracted to a store by an advertisement for a bargain-priced product. Even though you rush to the store on the first day of the sale you discover that the product is sold out or otherwise not available as perceived in the ad. While there you may be tempted to purchase a similar product at the regular price; they expect.

Not much hinders business from using dirty tricks in marketing. On the rare occasion where they are charged and fined the public is unaware. The company will simply tweak the sales technique for the next ploy, to its advantage.

There are many sleazy methods such as deceptive ads, displays and price tags. One must study the complex words and look for double meanings. And then there is the use of fine print that is immensely popular with corporate marketers including many of the largest, most successful companies.

The communications, credit and some large retail corporations quickly come to mind as leaders of the pack.

Admittedly there are still a great many shoppers that do not pay attention to price at all and gladly pay top dollar with little concern if the item or service is overpriced or unsatisfactory. These deficiencies are the retailers' advantage and if it does not work out these customers simply buy something else. The rest of us feel cheated and are upset. We know from experience that an adjustment or rebate may not be a possibility or is not worth the annoying effort required in dealing with the issue.

Such is our free enterprise system, allowing business almost freely to take advantage of individuals. But heck, it's good of commerce.

But that's the way it is, and that is the direction in which a more or less self-regulating market has taken us. And it will continue as sellers want more sales and profits and the competition is vigorous. It is unfortunate that there is little negative publicity about bad business ethic and the dwindling consumer reaction. Thank private media and owners. Shoppers today expect bad treatment in certain industries and must be studious and alert or be sorry.

So the business-consumer relationship continues to evolve in a very negative way.

The 'good old days' is somewhat of a misnomer because so much in our lives is so much better now than then. Some things however, are very much worse.

55 years ago I had just purchased my first car and I was ordering insurance for it, over the phone. After supplying the details to the agent and completing the transaction verbally, I then asked how they considered the information adequate and truthful when not related to them in person.

He replied that the transaction was conducted in good faith.

As I recall businesses were more trustworthy back then and customer complaints were taken seriously. There were easily accessible complaint departments and public relations personnel. A familiar store motto was; "The customer is always right."

Where have these nice business principles gone?

What is good faith? It's trust of course, but what we have in our present day consumer world is bad ethic and greed. I don't long for the good old days but it's time for a corporate trend back to transacting honestly and kindly and in good faith. Positive change will not be happening until the nature of government changes to reflect a deeper interest in citizens rather than in corporations.

Free Enterprise: Free to conduct business and maximize profit in any creative manner, preferably without being convicted of breaking the law. - Grampa Ken

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Ideas That Can Make Life So Good

If I had my life to live over I'd do a much better job and from an early age.

Yet I'm very happy here and now. As we should all be, especially if we have sufficient accommodation, food and clothing.

If we do have all the basic necessities and are still weighted down with worries, tensions or emptiness, a few personal positive changes could be a big help in bringing increased happiness and a better life.

"This strange disease of modern life with its sick hurry, its divided aims." Sounds like the times in which we now live but it was written in the 1800's by Matthew Arnold. Stress is not uncommon but at this point in time it seems to be very much on the rise for so many. Our present social environment can make us feel anxious, empty or downright miserable if we do not have the right prescription for living well.

There are numerous happenings in our lives that can leave us feeling worried and depressed for long periods of time. But there is a wonderful prescribed set of ideas written on the topic of living wisely, much of which has been carried down through the ages. Some very helpful advice can be found repeatedly throughout these wise writings. We may only need to adopt our choices as our own treasures and keep them close at hand. A sampling is presented here.

A simple change of thought can provide an immediate improvement in how we are feeling at any moment. Initially this may not be easy to do and will require practice, but the results can be so valuable in eliminating those bad moments.

Cheerfulness will come from acting cheerful because it is very difficult to act one way and feel the opposite. Happiness is in our thoughts, it is not material things or experiences, but it is what we are thinking, now. So focus on pleasant ideas, words and experiences and feel better.

Smile and be smiled at! We are not likely to feel angry or upset when smiles are exchanged. Such a simple act with such a positive effect, and so said Joseph Addison (1672-1719); "What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. They are but trifles, to be sure, but, scattered along life's pathway, the good they do is inconceivable."

Our values should be reviewed from to time. So many of us go through life always wanting more and better, much of which does not bring peace of mind and often just the opposite. It is normal to want more for ourselves and our families, but of what value will it truly be and how much will it cost in terms of real life? How many extra hours of stress and anxiety, now and later, are required? Anxieties abound in our social surroundings, even encouraged as we are continually bombarded with messages telling us that we must have more. But we do not need to go this way. We can eliminate those things which are not necessary for a contented life.

Carrying a heavy load of problems and worries for which there is no solution can take the enjoyment out of living, and worse, make us sick. Of course this is a complete waste of time. If our anxiety is about something we should fix, and can fix, and want to fix, then we should fix it. Otherwise we can forget it! Shantideva put this simply; "If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?"

In a stressful situation slow down and if you can, take a break. Visualize your way out of your tension by picturing a very calm and peaceful setting. Use deep easy breathing as a soother, and continue this regularly throughout the day.

Confidence seems difficult or impossible to achieve for many of us, but happily this can be improved upon. Personality might make it difficult but we can be content with doing what we can do. A good start is to forget trying to be perfect in the eyes of others and feel good ourselves. There is plenty of room on earth for us who are not superstars. There is only one you - you are unique and special in this world.

Feeling hopeless and sick might seem very appropriate and unique to your very difficult situation, but you should know that many of us have suffered similar or worse experiences and survived very well. So will you. To counteract the feeling of hopelessness, list those assets which you possess. Some of these: family, youth, friends, health, job, home, nature, pets, garden, music, faith, books...

Kindness benefits both ways. Many wise people have stated a very important relationship between our feelings toward others and how we feel. By thinking of and being thoughtful of other people, we get our thoughts away from ourselves and whatever is causing our misery. It's simple according to Benjamin Franklin; "When you are good to others, you are best to yourself."

Anger may seem justified when we have been hurt, however let's review the situation and consider the facts and effects. Who is being harmed by our anger or revenge? If we are sickened and causing ourselves more hurt, what is the sense? On this topic Arnold Bennett in the 1800's surmises; "It's hard to have one's watch stolen, but one reflects that the thief of the watch became a thief from causes of heredity and environment which are as interesting as they are scientifically comprehensible; and one buys another watch, if not with joy, at any rate with a philosophy that makes bitterness impossible."

Stress may attempt to intervene in your daily habits but do not permit it. Visit a peaceful retreat in your imagination, and at different times during the day, go there to calm your feelings. Picture it in vivid detail. Perhaps a comfortable room with soft music. A quiet place in the woods. A placid fishing lake. A beautiful garden with flowers, trees, birds, water falls. Perhaps such a place already exists for you. While you are there, let go of everything except where you are.

Guilt? Go easy on yourself and accept that we all make mistakes, or have done some very bad things that we so wish that we had not done. We can think about these but only long enough to review them initially; then make amends if possible, and if you want to. Finally determine better actions in future situations such as a avoiding experiences that result in guilt by not judging, blaming, or harming others - or yourself.

Love is such an asset but it can also involve problems with differences in opinion, manners and actions. One description of a long term loving relationship might be the desire for two people to spend their lives together, with a continuing compassion for each other through good and bad times. Joseph Addison put it quite nicely, "Two persons who have chosen each other out of all the species with a design to be each other's mutual comfort and entertainment have, in that action, bound themselves to be good-humored, affable, discreet, forgiving, patient, and joyful, with respect to each other's frailties and perfections, to the end of their lives."

In criticizing others we can make ourselves look bad and there can be repercussions. On the other hand listening and making an effort to see others' viewpoints results in less pressure to perform and tasks at hand will be made easier. The added friendliness returned to us will be uplifting. "He will succeed if he remains firm in principle and goes beyond selfish considerations to mingle freely with those who do not share his feelings, as well as those who do." - I Ching

Sleep tight suggestions. Quietly relaxing in the evening is most helpful to a peaceful night and a better tomorrow. An alcohol nightcap is relaxing but unfortunately usually sets a mental alarm clock for about 2am. Trying to put yourself to sleep has the opposite effect, so instead of clamping your eyes tight try leaving them lightly open to roam the room, or fix them on an insignificant object. Think peaceful scenes. Count sheep or count deep breaths. You can also consider that you do not need so much sleep and limit tossing to 15-20 minutes. Then get up and watch some boring TV or work on an easy crossword puzzle which will direct your mind away from what was agitating it. This can work very well and an hour or more of this and a return to bed can result in a sound shortened sleep.

Humility as well as self-confidence is necessary in a well-balanced life and this gives us a sound approach to interacting with other people. They feel good and we feel good, and another friend is added value in our lives. "Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief." - Marcus Cicero (BC)

So to improve our lives we can do what we would do to learn a trade, art or game; we can read and practice. A good place to start is the self-help or self-improvement section of the public library or bookstore. If you think that this is an odd place in which to be seen, think again. There are very many big selling self-help titles to choose from. These books are popular reading. Start with the most popular books on various self-help topics. Reread the better ones, highlight the best phrases, and take notes. Set aside fifteen minutes a day to help make good thinking and happy, satisfied feelings a way of life. It could be the best time investment you ever made.

Always consider professional medical help with difficult physical and mental health problems. We should not shy away from anything that could improve our lives.

This article is based on Grampa Ken's 32 KEYS A Collection of Ideas About Life. An online booklet online since 1999, it began with the accumulation of a few helpful tips on living well, much needed along the journey to here.

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Greed And Credit

The intensely marketed credit business is a big mean money making machine.
Credit card companies are lined up for those account interest charges and have conscripted retailers to join the pack. With so many businesses involved and competing for the same loan interest profits, costs have escalated and in some areas ethics have nose dived.

Borrowing is a necessary part of living for many today where it provides assistance in buying basic necessities. Purchasing a first home or transportation for example. But taking on credit can be a drag on one's financial and personal well being, and it can be much worse when goaded into debt overload.

Credit marketers and other industries spend vast amounts of money emphasizing consumers 'need' to require more, much more than they truly need. And they make it sound easy - just charge it and own it now.

Sellers of credit work frantically to maximize profits while not necessarily providing fair value to consumers. As has been reported in the news, businesses along with their loan marketers have used some ruthless strategies in obtaining handsome profits. Slick tactics to encourage borrowing even when it is potentially hurtful is a cruel business.

These tactics have resulted in financial hardships and disasters for so many who may have been encouraged into unnecessary bad credit usage. The classic example has been the slick sales efforts of greedy companies who sold mortgages they knew were risky. But similar efforts are popular in many areas of lending and can be crippling to individuals and families who have been talked into excessive credit usage.

MORTGAGES - Can you read this? You qualify!

Refused by bank, bad credit, bankrupt? Loans guaranteed.
Price gouging is not new to enterprise, in fact it can be seen regularly throughout the shopping experience. It is free enterprise where you can charge whatever someone is willing to pay. One of those gouging experts must have created the expression; "Greed is good" - though it be noxious, corrupting and hurtful. Sadly though, greed is profitable and can create wealth.

Much of the credit rates charged to borrowers have been excessively high for years, even while investment interest returns are historically low. With bank savings and term accounts paying 0.2% - 2.2% borrowing rates can be extremely higher. Retail credit card interests take off and can run as high as 29.9% on unpaid balances.

WOW! No wonder the massive marketing campaigns. Stores and others, as well as major credit card providers are circling around shoppers like a pack of wolves.

And so the continuing promotions; gross amounts of junk mail from major credit card companies, financial institutions, supermarkets, department stores and miscellaneous associations who can all issue their version of a major charge card for a fraction of the profit.

"Use your customer charge card and earn extra loyalty points." is one 'encouragement'.  But it gets worse.

Think you can entirely avoid owning and using your department store's credit charge card? It may not be that easy in the future as shrewd sellers are finding new ways to 'persuade' consumers to use their card to buy their products. I see a trend developing where increasingly the bargain price of a store item is tied to the store's charge card. No charge - no discount.

A recent trip to a department store sale had displays with products discounted in the area of 20%-30%. On some displays there were larger signs:

Use your customer charge card and earn extra loyalty points

So what are you going to do? Pay double?

You may never miss a payment but the poor soul who is struggling from payday to payday will sink deeper into debt and suffer the consequences of giving in to the persuasions.

Sure corporate mouth pieces may defend these exorbitant charges in saying their costs are high but that is largely because of the massive advertising expenditures. And then there are defaults where the trapped debtor could not pay and has declared bankruptcy.

Loan contract trickery may include confused, bloated wording and fine print; and a bag of costly surprises for the buyer after the transaction is made. This is a winning strategy for ruthless companies and now widely popular.

More negative consumer credit experiences may be coming in the news, brought on by always creative forms of corporate greed. It will be on the backs of low income families.

Consumers need fairness and protection in dealing with this type of business and it can only begin with governments that stand up for their citizens. They can investigate commercial behavior more closely, encouraging consumer input, and applying fixes that will require fair and ethical treatment of their citizens.

If they should ever care to.

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