This morning, finishing up a run in Central Park, I looked around at all the people carrying paper cups of $4 coffee, I watched a parade of expensive German cars drive through the transverses and I saw logo-adorned-tourist after logo-adorned-tourist traipse by wielding expensive Japanese equipment. I wondered what would happen if we have a real live depression.
When I came to Manhattan 30 years ago to attend Columbia University, the island was a different place. There were Greek coffee shops on about every fourth corner that were reasonably-priced. You could get a decent cup of Joe for about 35 cents. There were also Army/Navy stores where the merchandise didn't have to be periodically marked down 70%. There were bakeries, not bake shops, and newsstands and hamburger places that weren't parts of multi-national chains. There were places you could get service, like independent bookstores. Places you could get things repaired. And movie theaters that would have Charlie Chaplin festivals with one $5 ticket getting you in for a whole day's worth of films.
I suppose this is the nostalgia of an old man. I remember when you could by a Park Avenue co-op for 85 cents and an Oldsmobile for under a quarter. But really my nostalgia isn't for lower prices, it's for simpler merchandise. For sneakers without irony. For tee shirts that didn't need faux-witty sayings. For glasses that were just glasses, not an advertisement for Dolce & Gabbana. My nostalgia is for a time when conspicuous consumption was derogated not applauded.
I don't want anyone to lose their home or their job. But you know what, I think we'd all be better off if some of our greedy chickens came home to roost.