Many of us are products of the 80’s and 90’s and can recall some of the items that were popular back then. Certain shoes, cars, and electronic gadgets were considered a sign of wealth and social status (or good credit) at that time. Owning things brought prestige and envy, especially amongst peers and colleagues. The phrase “he who dies with the most toys, wins” was coined.
Fast forward twenty-five years, through 3 recessions, a housing bubble, the healthcare crisis, and crippling student debt. In each case, we have learned something about handling money (or how not to handle it). We have also been awakened to the fact that the economy in most countries, but perhaps particularly the United States, is a living, breathing thing. It is a beast that can both make and ruin people, financially and otherwise, as it waxes and wanes.
For most of us though, through all of the perambulations of the market, there has been the constant of employment. A vocation to pull us out of our student loan obligations and afford accommodations whether they be our own, or rented from someone else. Work, a perceived cornerstone of our nation, and something that we are all taught to pursue passionately. After all, where would all our “things” come from without some form of paid occupation?
Not to mention that those “things” come with costs aside from their purchase price. It can be alarming to consider that everything you own, you are still paying for (hence, the idea of being “owned” by the objects one has acquired). Ultimately, any “thing” that you possess requires some type of residence, whether that be your abode, a storage unit, or your parents’ house (although those costs may be more intrinsic), and this will usually be something that you have to pay for. These items have physical costs too, such as some form of maintenance, or, at the very least, the time and effort it would require to rid yourself of them.
So, we toil for someone else in order to acquire possessions, we continue to work in order to pay for the said items’ housing and maintenance, and oftentimes must physically use or care for an item to keep it operational. While we usually look at this equation in terms of monetary cost, it could be argued that the largest and most valuable expenditure here is not of dollars, but of time.
Although it’s true that we all get at least some time, it is lamentable that we don’t always get to spend it the way in which we desire. Those fortunate enough to have surplus wealth, however, get the side benefit of utilizing their hours as they choose, rather than for another’s cause.
Accordingly, having “free” time has become a sign of wealth and means. This could be true either because the owner actually has a healthy income, or simply because they are adept at budgeting, and choose time over objects. In any case, the freedom that an individual has due to their possession of spare moments is becoming associated with greater social status, rather than ineptness, as had been the stigma in decades past.
Now that seemingly everyone is operating on someone else’s schedule, those that are allowed to function according to their own agenda are seen as the new elite, having escaped the so-called “rat race.” The value of currency is becoming more associated with its ability to grant chronological freedom than the accumulation of commodities. Time, and the freedom to dictate it, are becoming the new signs of prestige, in a nation that has brandished its 40 hour work week as an ideal for so long.
*This article is the second of the New American Dream series.