In 1977, two Boeing 747s collided on an airstrip in the Canary Islands. According to accident investigators, those who survived the initial blast in one plane had time to escape before a fire consumed the wreckage. But eyewitnesses reported that many remained in their seat looking perfectly content--as if nothing was wrong.
Not surprisingly, dozens of these dazed victims were burned to death, and the episode became a reminder of the so-called normalcy bias--a cognitive phenomenon whereby many who are faced with imminent disaster instantly convince themselves that everything is normal and that they don't have to modify their behavior.
Unpleasant as this anecdote is to recount, it exemplifies the psychology at the root of one of America's most destructive traits: our obsession with materialism and consumerism. To extrapolate the metaphor, if our damaged economy, record-low savings rate and sky-high personal debt levels are that smoldering plane about to explode, then America's "shop till you drop" normalcy bias may be engineering yet another avoidable tragedy.
The most recent holiday binge exemplified the impending crisis. Despite persistent unemployment, flat wages and higher prices for necessities (food, health care, etc.), America nonetheless went on its usual post-Thanksgiving buying spree.Read the rest at In These Times
The Economic Normalcy Bias
by David Sirota
"Obsession with materialism and consumerism" rots the human spirit. Sages of all times and climes were not being grinches when they cautioned against the corrosive effects, which are deadly for a culture as well as for individual aspirations based on enduring values. The so-called rational pursuit of maximum utility all too easily turns into what Keynes dubbed "animal spirits."