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Lifestyle Changes.

March 19, 2012

A few months ago, in “This and that…” and later in my blog, “Trenz Pruca’s Journal,” I commented on Naomi Wolf’s observation that a certain portion of the nation’s younger generation appears intentionally choosing to be less mobile and unmotivated to pursue the high intensity jobs that past generations aspired to. I pointed out that, if her observation is correct, this trend may become exacerbated by the increased use of mobile communication over the past decade or two. Perhaps a major portion of what we purchase, I surmise, is intended for travel to and meeting with other people. Things like automobiles, clothing, cosmetics and the like, for the most part, are intended to facilitate face to face meetings between people. With mobile electronic communication, at least to those who rely upon them (mostly the young who grew up using them for their juvenile socialization needs), such travel and meeting oriented purchases are less necessary, and the employment requirements to acquire the money to obtain them less pressing.

Such shifts in social goals need not be great in order to have a significant effect on the nation’s economy. As I mentioned a mere 3% of potential purchasers eschewing a second car could be enough to eliminate growth in the automotive industry for that year.

Some evidence that this shift already is occurring is provided by the chart I have recently come across that indicates Vehicle Miles Driven in America has declined for the past 7 years and the pace of the decline is quickening.

While the recession accounts for some of the decline, it began prior to the beginning of the rescission (as it did in 1980) but more importantly it has continued and even accelerated following the recession’s end.

If this chart is a harbinger of the future, just think about what it may mean for the future, on jobs, highway construction, automobile manufacturing, climate change, the textile industry and on and on.

What is curious to me is that few economists, commentators or financial pundits that I know of appears to have even glanced at the phenomena much less commented on it except as an artifact of the recent recession. Perhaps they think it is irrelevant.

Before the advent of the highly mobile society in the 1920s economics was the provenance of a few academic scholars. Since its inception the industry has grown such that every mid-sized institution worth its salt, has a house economist (as well as a lawyer and accountant, two other growth industries over the past 80 years). Could it be that they have really been studying the wrong thing all along?

The Adam Smith’s of the world in the 18th Century attempted to generalize the workings of traders and brokers meeting in a few coffee houses in London. Their musings were found useful but inadequate to describe the industrial economies of the 19th Century and by the Twentieth Century re-evaluated again. But were they not simply attempting to generalize the workings of trade in an agrarian society, the dynamics of industrialization and most recently the transportation based economy? In every case they proved to be somewhat satisfactory for describing what lay in front of them, but wholly inadequate in either predicting or describing the transition to another economic paradigm? In other words, perhaps the title of Macro-economics their practitioners assumed for their trade was never very Macro at all, but just a poorly written operating manual for a soon to be obsolete machine.

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