Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Recession is Good for You

I've never been the odds-on favorite to win any popularity contests, and I doubt this particular epistle is going to win me any more. Of course, my beat is branding. It's what I do. But I don't do it in a vacuum. In order for branding to work, it has to resonate with the people to whom the brand is aimed. I need to tap into the collective consciousness. Really dig into peoples' hearts and minds, because that's where the hot buttons are. I spend just as much time delving into human nature as I do the brand strategies with which they engage. In that vein, I humbly submit the following:

The recession is good for you.

Strange as it may seem, and likely counter to the prevailing wisdom, the hardships imposed by the worldwide recession are a boon to most Americans and citizens of the western world. That's not to say I'm in favor of people losing their homes. Nor am I going to rehash the sermons on fiscal responsibility. No, the recession is good for you for reasons that nobody else seems to care about -- but are vitally important.

Clearly the most damaging factor of an economic downturn is the shortage of cash. People simply can't afford as much as they once could. That much is obvious. What may not be so obvious is whether not buying as much as they could have is such a bad thing. And before you reject that notion completely, think about these:

True story: A kid shows up with a minor skin growth. Probably a common viral wart. Before the recession, the solution is a trip to the doctor ($85) and likely medicine ($50) and probably at least one more follow-up visit to the doctor ($50), for a total of $185 out of pocket. But during a recession, the solution is taking a look, walking to the drug store and picking up a bottle of salicylic acid (essentially liquid aspirin, $5) and a box of BandAids ($3) for a total of $8 out of pocket.

The difference goes far beyond the $177 savings. And that's why the recession is good for you.

The recession is good for you because it pries you away from an over-dependence on a service economy for which there is no real need. Besides saving a boatload of bucks, you get to discover the joy of solving problems yourself. A boost to your self-worth that's continually undermined when you pay someone else to constantly solve your own issues.

Think it's a minor problem? Think again:

A major by-product of our fattened economy has been the removal of individual responsibility. Instead of doing research to apply for college financial aid, you can now pay a service to ferret out the information. Instead of planting your own garden and literally enjoying the fruits of your own labor, you can pay a landscaper. Instead of using your own common sense to burn away a wart, you can visit a doctor who -- more often than not -- can't come up with a better solution than your own.

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with relying on paid professionals; I have a big problem with over-relying on paid professionals. Everywhere I look, I see more unnecessary services being foisted on the public, relentlessly pounding their self-images into submission by declaring their own judgement isn't good enough. Over the last few decades, I've watched as an entire nation has allowed itself to be transformed from a once-proud monument to self-sufficiency into a national nursery of whiners who feel the only way out of their problems is to pay someone else to do it.

But a recession can change all that. It actually can force you to take matters into your own hands. And once you succeed at that, you're hooked. It only takes one time to grind your own beans before you decide Starbucks isn't worth it. Discovering how to shut off the water to swap out a faucet not only saves you hundreds, it makes you feel pretty darn good about yourself.

Somewhere along the line, there's a Sunday school lesson about a guy who believes that if you feed a man a fish, he'll be hungry again tomorrow; but if you teach a man to fish, he'll never go hungry again. Grab yourself a fishing pole. The recession is good for you.