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South Lake Tahoe is a dream destination for mid-September, but for me it reeked with impending disaster. The weather is perfect, the summer crowding is gone and the winter crowds haven’t arrived, and this afternoon I sat with my geriatric friends at Sprouts sandwich shop’s outdoor plaza. It is in the shade and just across from a 25 MPH stretch of highway. It is usually a bit noisy, but not nearly so much today because just a half mile up the highway the pavement was being replaced, so two lanes were being compressed into one lane for a half a mile. The result was that the traffic was walking speed most of the time. That gave us plenty of time to talk about the vehicles slowly passing by and the social implications of what we were seeing.

What I was seeing was vast sums of money being squandered on expensive new luxury cars and sporting vehicles of every description. Toys! Everything looked new, or nearly new, and rarely seen was anything that would appear to be an economy car; economic people’s cars, like America’s Ford Model-T or A, or Germany’s  original VW beetle or India’s modern Tata Nano or China’s Chery QQ, were absent. Those are the cars that make a country rich. Instead of efficient cars every vehicle was pretentious in some way, and those are the cars that make a country poor! Big SUVs, plush pickups, flashy motorcycles, sport cars, Hummers and Winnebagos towing a second vehicle. There was so little left to be pretentious about with the shape specialized play function of the vehicles themselves that a new pretentiousness has come to the fore, in the form of fantastically fancy wheels and strikingly pretty paint jobs. I don’t know how much a splendid paint job costs, but it must be in some multiple of thousands of dollars. Big glowing opalescent-champagne Mercedes don’t come cheap, but they don’t get a family of four down the road any quicker or safer than an old Corolla, although they use vastly more natural resources. It is all for precious vanity with no socially redeeming value. The problem for me was that it appeared everyone was playing the silly game of trying to impress everyone else of their personal value by displaying these ostentatious frivolities. That pretentiousness is purchased by most of these people by going into voluntary debt; by mortgaging their future life’s time and energy into self-imposed slavery to a bank. These self-indulgent attitudes spill over into our national governmental policies of spending money that we don’t have on indulgences that we don’t need. Obviously that can’t go on forever, and we are burning up the wonderful world our forefathers bequeathed to us.

Here is an illustration of how this squandering has slipped into our governmental spending. There is at present a political fantasy of each worker putting money into a health plan via compulsory payments. It is claimed that this will protect workers and that it will be cheaper for them because of the economies of scale. Unfortunately, the money isn’t set aside for those who contributed it but is shunted into the general fund and the money is then given to other projects and to those who were never workers and who never contributed anything into the fund. Those are just examples of the squandering of our resources and I see everywhere.

Just beyond the passing parade of automotive extravagance is a beautiful older library, set in a lovely forest, but it is partially closed in trouble for lack of funding. A hundred years ago the very practical millionaire Andrew Carnegie gave his wealth to the creation of libraries because he knew it would be helpful in increasing the knowledge and abilities of the general public and that those libraries would improve the health and productivity of the entire community. But the well attended library, where the existing building and many of the books were paid for long ago, is now only open part time because they have too little money for daily operation. It is a question of priorities. The ostentatious paint job on that single car, one of thousands passing by, would cover those marginal operating expenses for that paid for library for months. These are just obvious examples derived from a ubiquity of extravagance and conspicuous consumption permeating our country.

The poverty of America is created by a priority of squandering our wealth on frivolities.