If only President Bush were still around. He had a quick fix for the economy in times of trouble: “Go shopping.” So he said in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And then, as the current recession descended, “Go shopping more.” Americans gladly complied, buying untold numbers of houses, cars and Jack Lalanne Power Juicers. Of course, most of them bought on credit and…well, we all know how that worked out. But the national passion for new stuff has cooled: the savings rate is at 7 percent, the highest in 15 years. This may or may not be a good thing, says a recent Newsweek column. It all depends on your perspective. It may be good for the U.S. (we couldn’t keep slapping the plastic at the rate we were) but it’s not good for the rest of the world, where exporting nations wait impatiently for American consumers to start consuming again. And no wonder. Newsweek points out that, despite the hype about growing economies in China and India, “our spending is equal to the entire economies of China and India added together and then doubled.” (Whoa. That’s a lot of juicers.)
A nation of looky Lius? So why don’t people in those emerging economies buy the way Americans do? Well, when is the last time you went to Ikea? We can’t go in the place without carting home armloads of Jonsbos, Bladhults and Lampligs. (“$2.99 for a Gnarp set? We’ll take five!”) But this is not how it works in China, says the L.A. Times. Yes, the Chinese love Ikea. But no, they don’t buy anything there. Beijing residents flock to the store to enjoy the air conditioning, eat in the cafeteria and flake out on a bed or sofa. Some even bring measuring tapes, then go home and build their own Bergsbos. Ikea employees are told to grin and bear the freeloaders. The company hopes they’ll turn into buyers one day.
But they do spend on green. So what happens if the billions of people in China and India start consuming at the rate Americans do? Well, then earth will look like a microwaved Brillo Pad in the space of 20 years. Or maybe not. China is powering into the green-energy lead, notes the Telegraph. The country controls the solar-cell market and it will triple its wind-power capacity by 2020. The clean-energy center of Baoding is the first carbon-positive city in the world. Does China care that much about global warming? Not to judge by the number of coal-burning power plants (China uses more coal than the U.S., Europe and Japan combined). But it does know fossil fuels won’t last and it’s working hard on alternatives. Meanwhile, a U.S. climate change bill has succumbed to fierce resistance in Congress. And Dick Armey, corporate lobbyist and former House majority leader (R, of course), testified on Capitol Hill that global warming will never happen because God won’t let it. (We’re not religious but we do pray that Armey ends up in a very hot place.)