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A Critique of Consumer Society -- in Black and White

L.A. Garment & Citizen, News Profile, Walter Melton Posted: May 15, 2009

Elmer Moore turned 90 this spring, the same day that U.S. President Barack Obama issued his call for the economic stimulus plan that is pumping $700 billion into the ailing U.S. economy.

Moore was a 10-year-old kid in Oklahoma when the stock market crashed and signaled the start of the Great Depression back in 1929. His mother worked full-time for $10 a week back then. They lived in a house rented fro $10 a month. A dozen fresh eggs cost a dime, and rice went for three cents a pound.

Moore spoke of all of that and more during a recent visit to his modest, well-kept apartment in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles. He recalled what a depression looked like back than and thought about what a recession looks like nowadays.

"I remember the bread lines and soup kitchens and the millionaires jumping out of windows committing suicide," Moore says.

The Great Depression didn't cause as much disruption for blacks compared to whites, he says. Not because it didn't hit black folks as hard just because they were used to tough times, used to limited aspirations.

"You could not be a lawyer or doctor you could not practice law in Oklahoma when I was a kid," he says. "So blacks had all of the menial jobs. Those jobs were not affected unless the firm when bankrupt."

Moore sees some irony in the current economic downturn. The advances of civil rights over the decades mean that blacks and whites now share equally in the recession, a turn that Moore says is driven by a mutual deterioration of values.

"Blacks could not get in over their heads during the Depression because no one would give them any money," Moore says. "Blacks have made many economic strides...and shared in prosperity along with whites. Over a 50-year period our morals have deteriorated. We have no morals and the bankers are worse now than they were then."

Call it a price of progress.

"People back then went for things that were constant, where they could plan," Moore says. "They did not have these variable loans back then and if they had them, no one would go for them because you could not plan. Nowadays, nobody wants to do what is right. The bankers are thieves and the public is gullible."

Call it the comeuppance of a consumer society.

The problems have come, Moore says, because folks "want to keep up with the Joneses and if you want to keep up with the Joneses and you are gullible, then you are going to get yourself into trouble."

Call it the equality of egomania.

Too many blacks and whites have been gullible and wanted to impress people," Moore says. "That is why we have so many foreclosures. It is as much the fault of misplaced values of consumers as it is the greed of the bankers."

Moore says he wishes that people today would benefit from lessons learned during the Great Depression.

"We need to get back to basics," he says. "We need to plan and concentrate on the areas that are important. Stop worrying about fancy cars and fancy get-rich schemes. Get our value system in order."

Walter Melton is a writer for the L.A. Garment & Citizen.

Photo from L.A. Garment & Citizen

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