In A Recession, Shopping Is A Mental Problem

January 28th, 2009 by alyx · 2 Comments · retail


At this rate, we are never going to kickstart spending again, no matter what the amount of stimulus.

Citi tries to buy a plane, and is promptly (and deservedly…) bitchslapped. Dick Fuld’s wife has to sneak around and have Hermes put her purchases in plain brown paper bags.  New York’s former commissioner of  health, Antonia Novello, was busted for having city employees trek her to Saks – and, indeed, for shame.

Now, there’s one more thing America’s spenders need to worry about. It’s not the scolding from your social circle, or even the wrath of AmEx over unpaid bills. It’s the idea that you could be completely loco, especially if you’re buying in a down economy:

A leading expert in the field, Dr. Donald W. Black, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa, suggested that compulsive shoppers tended to be women who have had relatives also predisposed to buying binges, and lived in areas overflowing with goods and the disposable income to buy them. He added that medical trials to treat the condition have been stymied by a lack of government funding.

As for the economy, it matters, Dr. Benson said. In fat times, compulsive shoppers work with extra fervor to keep up with the Joneses. But in lean times, their guilt is a conflicting brew of shame (widespread unemployment) and temptation (cut-rate sales).

“It’s like giving matches to a pyromaniac,” she said.

So, will spending find its way into the DSM? Who knows, but if you believe the US economy depends on consumerism, you should probably hope not. In the meantime, I have lately found myself really missing the popularity of the credit-default swap, in that I would really love to be able to buy credit-default swaps on people. For example, if I know someone has a particular credit card and I think their spending is out of control, I could buy a swap on, say, their AmEx. Certainly a vulture idea, but what evil fun it would be to bet against your “frenemies”…

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