The Consumption Carnival (Installment No. 1)–“Strut” Products
So I’m driving my Freedom Vehicle (a minivan) through the parking lot at my local Trader Joe’s the other day, and I pass by a servitude vehicle (a Range Rover) and something unique catches my attention. It strikes me as so gaudy and ostentatious that I’m forced to throw the Freedom Vehicle in reverse so I can snap a picture. Here’s what caught my eye:
When I returned home later that day I went to the Google to figure out what was going on with this “Strut” hood ornament. It turns out that “Strut” is a custom grille and wheel operation that makes specialty packages for certain luxury autos like Range Rover and Mercedes Benz. I gather that they market their wares to that special breed of consumer that doesn’t get enough self-affirmation from buying an $80k POS, so they need to drop a few extra Gs on an in-your-face package just to prove that they can. Just to strut.
Our hyper-consumption society is littered with businesses that make their money by simply selling the aura of luxury. Some of these luxury products are–incredibly–inferior in operation for their intended purpose, and for that very reason allow consumers of the product to strut their stuff by telling everyone around them “I’m so successful that I can pay $80k for a Range Rover that really doesn’t function all that well as a vehicle.” Mercedes Benz strikes me as a similar symbol of either ostentatious wealth or cosmic stupidity, depending on your financial situation.
During my time at the white-shoe law firm I did some work for a corporate client based in Manhattan. When the employee that I was working with–a fairly well-paid corporate executive–picked me up in his new Range Rover, he shared with me his exuberance regarding the purchase. He had owned it for all of three months, but had already had to leave it with the dealer for two weeks so they could fix a problem with the power steering function. Apparently it had ceased to operate while he was driving the car. Try driving a Range Rover around Manhattan without power steering. That doesn’t work. At any rate, my contact informed me that he was not worried about it because in his words, he had read somewhere that “2012 was a great year for Range Rovers,” indicating that this vintage was supposed to have fewer problems than other recent vintages. Nice.
All of this reminds me of a story regarding the “I Am Rich” app that was released for iOS in 2008, only to be removed by Apple a day later–after eight people had already purchased it. The app was priced at $1,000 and had absolutely no functionality or purpose other than showing anyone that picked up your device that you had the wherewithal to pay that amount for something that served no purpose other than to strut. Similar apps were subsequently released for the Android and Windows marketplaces.
So what’s the point regarding these strut-type products? Obviously if you are trying to achieve financial independence, they are something to avoid like an STD. At the risk of declaring that I occupy the moral high-ground, I would argue that even if you have achieved financial independence, if you are a thoughtful and decent person you would have to at least ask yourself whether your financial resources could be put to better use somewhere else–say maybe helping out someone who is struggling, or feeding starving children. You know, that type of thing. I am thinking here of the corporate Working Joes in the 55-65 age group that have retired with a lucrative pension and are eligible to start receiving Social Security distributions now or in the near future and who may be otherwise inclined to go out and buy a Strut-package Mercedes Benz to show everyone at the country club that they have made it. If you’re in the Unicorn Group and love what you do while earning gobs of money, have fully funded your future retirement, fully funded your kids’ college education, and maybe also given a significant amount to charitable causes that are trying to make this world a better place, then go out and strut. And God bless you.
But there should be a caveat. We should enact “strut” legislation that would forever preclude an individual from being eligible for any type of public assistance or benefit–including Medicare and Social Security–if they have ever purchased any strut-type product. The idea being that if you are so affluent that you can afford to burn money on products that only serve to show how much money you have (or can borrow), then you certainly don’t need any form of public assistance. (Ok, I suppose to be completely equitable the law would only require a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your public benefit equal to the future value (at a market rate of return) of your strut-type product purchases over the course of your life.) What would the list of strut-type products include? Here’s a start:
–Any motor vehicle that retails in excess of $40,000 and ranks in the top 10 of makes/models for unreliability/maintenance costs (think Mercedes Benz, BMW, Jaguar).
–Any Hummer-type vehicle. This was the original strut product.
–Strut packages. Obviously.
–Any house where the bedroom-to-members-of-your-family ratio exceeds 2:1.
We’ll call it the “Strut Act.”