Is it just me, or are the signs of consumer collapse as clear as a Lowes parking lot on a Saturday afternoon? Sometimes I wonder if I’m just seeing the world through my pessimistic lens, skewing my point of view. My daily commute through West Philadelphia is not very enlightening, as the squalor, filth and lack of legal commerce remain consistent from year to year. This community is sustained by taxpayer subsidized low income housing, taxpayer subsidized food stamps, welfare payments, and illegal drug dealing. The dependency attitude, lifestyles of slothfulness and total lack of commerce has remained constant for decades in West Philly. It is on the weekends, cruising around a once thriving suburbia, where you perceive the persistent deterioration and decay of our debt fixated consumer spending based society.
The last two weekends I’ve needed to travel the highways of Montgomery County, PA going to a family party and purchasing a garbage disposal for my sink at my local Lowes store. Montgomery County is the typical white upper middle class suburb, with tracts of McMansions dotting the landscape. The population of 800,000 is spread over a 500 square mile area. Over 81% of the population is white, with the 9% black population confined to the urban enclaves of Norristown and Pottstown.
The median age is 38 and the median household income is $75,000, 50% above the national average. The employers are well diversified with an even distribution between education, health care, manufacturing, retail, professional services, finance and real estate. The median home price is $300,000, also 50% above the national average. The county leans Democrat, with Obama winning 60% of the vote in 2008. The 300,000 households were occupied by college educated white collar professionals. From a strictly demographic standpoint, Montgomery County appears to be a prosperous flourishing community where the residents are living lives of relative affluence. But, if you look closer and connect the dots, you see fissures in this façade of affluence that spread more expansively by the day. The cheap oil based, automobile dependent, mall centric, suburban sprawl, sanctuary of consumerism lifestyle is showing distinct signs of erosion. The clues are there for all to see and portend a bleak future for those mentally trapped in the delusions of a debt dependent suburban oasis of retail outlets, chain restaurants, office parks and enclaves of cookie cutter McMansions. An unsustainable paradigm can’t be sustained.