GETTING GOODS IS ABOUT POWER, NOT JUST MATERIALISM
In his May 18 Opinion column, "For American consumers, how much is enough?" Jeffrey Shaffer makes an interesting juxtaposition between modern American consumerism and the comparative self-restraint of those living in the shadow of the Great Depression. Using the hypothetical example of a gas station where fuel is free, Mr. Shaffer sets up a debate abstracting American spending into the simple question: "How much is enough?"
This is an intriguing example, especially for me since I do not own a car. Nevertheless, I would buy a car specifically to stockpile the free fuel in the fervent hopes that a rush in acquisition of this resource would cause an eventual shortage in the market whereby I could resell the fuel at a profit.
Now let us go back to the Great Depression. What would the careful spenders living in that era do with the magic gas station? Simple, they would stockpile, too. They were not "materialistic" the way we think of it today, but they understood that consumerism isn't just about material goods, but also about power. Power stems from relative wealth. In a society dripping with wealth, nobody wants to be ruled by their more affluent, and therefore more economically potent, neighbors.
"How much is enough?" is a valid question if you need fuel to get around in your car, but "How much do the people attempting to control me have?" is a more valid question if you are thinking politically and not materialistically.
Assuming that society continues to run its current course, there is no such animal as "enough."
The author of the June 1 article, "All wrapped up in American ingenuity," is on to something. But one critical element that the article doesn't mention is the amount of landfill space that all of this plastic is taking up after you get your product out of its package and into your own hands.
Packaging fruits and vegetables seems to be more commonplace – at a market called Trader Joe's, nearly everything comes in a package, complete with a styrofoam plate in certain cases.
The last part of the article's closing line, "our courage, strength, and resourcefulness shall not perish from the earth," overlooks the fact that it is our resources that will perish if we continue to be package obsessed in a shrink-wrapped society.
FEWER WEEKEND HANGOUTS FOR TEENS
I read the June 6 article, "For teens, it's curfew time ... at the mall." I appreciated the points brought out by the author and would like to also comment that I noticed the article said that the curfew policy required someone under 17 to be accompanied by someone 21 or older.
I laughed to myself: Since when is 21 the magic number into adulthood? If anything, someone at that age hanging out with teenagers and even younger people might be a worse influence on those youth than if similarly aged kids were all hanging out alone together.
Furthermore, when I was in high school (not long ago), there were never many places to go that were safe or free from alcohol and drugs. My friends and I always had trouble finding places to go where our age was not an issue.
So if the malls are now closed to kids after certain hours, the only places left on a Friday night are Red Robin restaurants and the movies. Watch out, everybody!
FDR'S VISION IS NEEDED TODAY
I write in response to the June 5 book review, "FDR's blueprint for a fearless America." In his new biography, "FDR," Jean Edward Smith lucidly conveys a masterful account of the greatest American president of the past century.
Seventy-five years before "values" became a political buzzword and we focused on cultural issues such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control, President Franklin Roosevelt rightly saw values in terms of economic issues that affect people's lives. In light of the enormous changes occurring in the US economy, he called for a "reappraisal of values" as the foundation for his declaration of economic rights.
So now, changes in the global economy call for another reappraisal of values to ensure an updated social contract whereby, in Mr. Roosevelt's words, "every man has a right to life, and this means that he also has a right to make a comfortable living. He may by sloth or crime decline to exercise that right, but it may not be denied him."
The passage of time may lay waste to the outmoded means of economic activity but not to the end goals that ensure that people have a comfortable living and economic security. FDR's leadership transcends time because the values he represented are eternal. After reading Mr. Smith's "FDR," I wonder where all the leaders have gone and if there could be another FDR on the horizon?
GETTING CHINA, INDIA TO CONTROL CARBON EMISSIONS
Regarding the June 5 article, "China balks at emissions caps": The United States, not China or India, is the primary opponent to effective controls on greenhouse-gas emissions and to effectively preventing climate change. Both the Chinese and Indians have export-driven economies.
If the US and Europe make controlling greenhouse gas emissions a requirement for exports, China and India will agree to fair greenhouse-gas emission controls. But instead, some US politicians use Chinese greenhouse-gas emissions as an excuse to avoid stopping pollution.
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Any letter accepted may appear in print or on our website, www.csmonitor.com.
Mail letters to Readers Write and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to (617) 450-2317, or e-mail to "Questions, Comments, & Corrections" .