Apartment Therapy on Economy
There is a word that I believe is missing from our national discourse. It has been missing for a long time, and it was one of the words this country was built on. It is an inspiring word, a word that recognizes the limitations of our world and places ourselves safely inside of them. It seeks to build riches within, as well as without, to alleviate stress, to give us control of our lives, and prepare us for a fruitful, long life, not a short one.
This word is “economy.”
I was reminded of this word because of a quotation I read last Saturday high up on the side of an old bank on 96th street. The quotation was by Abraham Lincoln and is repeated above. When I saw the inscription, I thought about the people who built this bank (which has since become a Duane Reade drug store with bright blue and white vinyl signs against the old, majestic stone façade) and how they must have cared a great deal to have these words carved into the side of their building for all to see.
As with the solidity of the building itself, these words were not meant to be faddish or to be torn down in 20 years. They were expected to stand for a long, long time, and they represented a national language that everyone at that time understood. It was a shared value then, in much the same way it was a shared value in Lincoln’s time. The builders were tying their bank to a greater, historic mission, which existed long before them, and – they thought – would exist long after.
Now, the word economy has been replaced by the word “credit.” This smaller word is now what banks stand for and what they have advertised over their windows all over town. “Free checking,” “overdraft protection,” “low interest business loans,” this is our current language, and no one would dare to carve this into the façade of a bank, because who knows how long that bank will be there, and why spend the money?
So what has happened to this word, economy? It has become a fusty reminder of a threadbare time. It is a bugaboo and something to be avoided. It you know that the future is bright, why worry about the problems of the present? Humbug on economy. Our government has a deficit, so why shouldn’t we? Saving money is bad. Making money is good. Investing money is good. Borrowing money to buy is good. Economy stands for restraint, denial and a careful balancing act that is only for people who are not that bright. Smart people live expansively. They don’t worry about things like that.
I want to resuscitate the word economy in the way that Lincoln meant it. As he said, it is a virtue, and though it begins with saving money, it does not remain there. Economy is the product of the intelligence and wisdom that is able to see the needs of the future as well as those of today. It requires the type of self discipline that we teach children early on, so that they don’t eat too much too quickly, talk before they have thought of what to say, or so they save their allowance to buy something much more valuable than they could ever have afforded previously.
Economy is saving from the present, so that you can enjoy the future. It is an eternally hopeful word. It means you are in control of your ship, that no matter what storm springs up, you can weather it.
Economy means detachment from material possessions as you see your worth in your ability to provide for the future and not in your ability to consume today. It is selfless to the degree that you save for your family, community and descendants as much as you save for your yourself.
And in today’s world, your ability to practice economy places you in an elite group. While others carry debt and deal with various other byproducts of over consumption from clutter to obesity to heightened stress levels, you will gradually forgo shallow pleasure and discover deeper gratification in all things.
Finally, I want to resuscitate the word economy by starting in the place where it got its name. Coming from the Greek, oikonomos, or household manager, and from oikos house + nemein to manage, all economy begins at home. Through the efficient use of material resources, smart spending and making purchases that are healthy and lasting, a good home is created. This is the new economy. Instead of only living high on the side of an old bank, lets put it back into practice. MGR