Overspending and Debt: Opiates for the Consumer Society


In this issue:
1. Ponderable of the Month
2. Miscellaneous Newsbits
3. January Editorial: “Overspending and Debt: Opiates for the Consumer Society”
4. Preview: Next Month’s Editorial
5. Quote of the Month: Eckhart Tolle
6. Hot Link of the Month


“What a noble purpose for one’s life – to be in a place where one’s desire and one’s destiny are the same.”



Join Me for a Teleconversation on January 10

If you are a member of the Heartland Member Circle, a global network of visionaries sponsored by the hosts of Thought Leaders Gatherings, you can join in a teleconversation with me and other members and guests on the evening of January 10th for free. Non-members pay $15. For more information go to the link above. These conversations take place each month with a different VisionHolder. Past VisionHolders have included Meg Wheatley, Eric Utne and Pete Russell.

Clarifications of Last Month’s Editorial on SRI

Regarding my editorial last month entitled “Professionalizing Socially Responsible Investing (SRI),” Calvert’s SRI products were started in 1982 (it could be inferred that they began in 1976). Thanks to Paul Hilton, Calvert’s Director of SRI Marketing,for the clarification. Regarding the outstanding invitations to speak at “economie 06” that were extended to the former Swiss president Adolf Ogito and world tennis #1 seed Roger Federer, it is unclear that either of them had actually received their formal invitations when the newsletter was sent out last month.

Country Partnerships Available

The group sponsoring my trip to Zurich next year, a keynote for their SRI conference, is seeking country-partners to work with them in developing markets for SRI programs, licensing exams, educational modules and other products within each country.

(excerpted from John’s book-in-progress, The New Human: Beyond the Naked Ape)
One of the most widespread social addictions in the U.S., a disease that has metastasized from threatening individuals or families to causing entire countries to fail, is chronic overspending and the resultant indebtedness. Like the drug addict who gets relief from his or her “fix” of whatever they are using, the over-spender gets a “hit” by buying something, often something completely non-essential. Increasing one’s indebtedness is of less and less concern to the compulsive over-spender, much like the alcoholic who stops being concerned over the effect of over-drinking on their liver or overall health.

Nothing soothes the worries and fears of the financially over-extended like a large loan or an easy credit source, be it a new credit card for an individual or an enticing multi-billion dollar quick fix for a third world country despot anxious to infuse his country with some expensive infrastructure they could not normally afford. Borrowing funds allows one to continue overspending. Overspending leads to chronic debt, much like continuous drug usage results in health crises, or even death.

So “economic hit men” on all levels pander to the addicted over-spender, whether its the direct mail campaign worker aiming at the indebted and overextended working stiff or the private contractor working for the U.S. State Department preying upon economically vulnerable dictatorships. Comparisons of these purveyors of debt with drug dealers are not all that unfair, given that they both feed on the cravings of people for fast and easy fixes.

As a child, I recall a widespread attitude about spending that was considered wholesome: to acquire the new car or whatever you wanted to buy when you had the money saved to pay all cash. Borrowing money to buy something was considered reckless and irresponsible. I observed the changing mindsets of my family’s friends and neighbors, then society at large, as credit cards became popular, time payments became fashionable and the conservative approach to spending became as old fashioned as wearing girdles or hats and ties to work everyday.

At least two generations have now grown up with mountains of personal and national debt being “normal.” Students coming out of graduate school now start life behind the proverbial eight ball with student loans often well over $100,000! First time home buyers expect to borrow most of the purchase price, condemning themselves to carrying huge debt service costs for many years into the future.

And of course, the social system supports this addiction. While more and more consumers over-spend and rack up large debts, those same people are busy working long hours to produce the products and services that will be consumed, the substance that is being dealt. The difference is that instead of alcohol or cocaine, the substance might be a new SUV or a new item of technology or new clothes. Buying the new whatever provides that escape, that distraction that is so essential to the addict.

One of the byproducts of this pervasive indebtedness is growing insecurity in our society and a potpourri of fears and anxieties about debt. The possibility of losing one’s job takes on new meaning when one is over-extended in deep indebtedness. Visions of living on the street are reinforced each day when we see the homeless. As if our fears aren’t already overwhelming, we now have a War on Terror as a reminder to be terrified each day about something. But, like the addict who eventually settles into his or her addiction and becomes used to their consumption rate to keep their habit alive, our debt anxieties have become embodied. We’re used to it now! In fact, some of our past limits have been surpassed as our tolerance has grown, just like the alcoholic or drug addict.

Since this “culture of fear” already exists and the addiction has taken hold, most people don’t think twice about buying cars or houses they can’t afford or don’t even need. After all, the down payments are low enough and the creative financing allows the buyer to qualify despite the burden of indebtedness and stress the buying decision has upon the consumers making the purchase.

Consider the social cost of stressed out consumers trying to make ends meet, pursuing the materialist side of the American Dream. There is a huge cost born by all of society because of this stress. These social costs include healthcare, mental illness, crime, child care, divorce, substance addictions, depression, unexpressed resentments, road rage and domestic abuse, much of which is exasperated by the resultant stress from this indebtedness.

There’s even a 12 Step program called “Debtors Anonymous” where people admit their addiction to spending money they don’t have, resulting in chronic debt. In D.A., they try to “sober up” and cure themselves with the help of God. Recovered addicts of all kinds consider the non-religious spiritual aspect of 12 Step programs to be essential to their gaining and retaining their sobriety.

Fiscal sobriety is a way for us all to reestablish our personal and national responsibility when it comes to financial matters. Just like the alcoholic who admits his or her responsibility in their own addiction and starts living soberly, the only way to achieve fiscal sobriety is to take responsibility for what we’ve done, stop blaming others for the mess we created, and stop “using” overspending as an opiate. We can begin to restore sanity to our lives when we kick the habit of using consumption as a palliative, a short-term salve to ease the pain or discomforts of living like addicts do.

The first step to fiscal sobriety is to stop making the situation worse. As hard as this may be, it is key to recovering from any destructive obsession. Let’s become “clean and sober” when it comes to overspending and indebtedness, personally and nationally! Stop the denial, tell the truth and assume personal responsibility for what we’ve done. This comes down to what you and I are going to do, starting tomorrow. Are you willing to stop accruing debt, to start discerning the difference between purchases you actually need versus acquisitions that serve as temporary consolations. Are you willing to be among the first in your circle to begin living in fiscal sobriety?


“Reconciling Evolution and God” (an excerpt from John’s book-in-progress, The New Human: Beyond the Naked Ape)


“You don’t become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge. But it can only emerge if something fundamental changes in your state of consciousness.” – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth


International Museum of Women was originally founded as the Women’s Heritage Museum in 1985. In 1997, in response to growing support, the Board began developing plans for a major museum in San Francisco and changed its name.


John delivers keynotes talks to corporations, associations and conferences. A list of his topics can be viewed at Keynotes That Make You Think! For references check: What people have said about John as a speaker.

John is a San Francisco writer and businessman-futurist. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. More about John can be found at About.

Posted in

John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

Mini Keynote Archives