It’s only money

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Harvey D. Kart

Like many Americans, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the cost of living in these here United States.

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting family in Florida, I found myself in the opulent lobby of a golf resort. The weather was warm – a far cry from the frigid temperatures and lake effect snow you all were enjoying back home in western Pennsylvania – and I decided nothing would cool me off like a Diet Dr. Pepper.

But when I went to purchase one, I found my body temperature actually rise a few degrees rather than go down. The price on the 16-ounce bottle of carbonated water was a whopping $4.38! I couldn’t believe it. Why, I don’t think they charge that much for a soda even at a movie theater.

Reluctantly, I bought the Diet Dr. Pepper – but I didn’t open it. I decided I would set it on my desk as a reminder of the day I passed another threshold in my life – the day I spent $4.38 for a 16-ounce soft drink.

Coincidentally, that same day I got word that my cable television bill was going up and my family and I decided to pass on fresh stone crabs for dinner, which would have cost us $200. Earlier in the week, my spouse and I inquired about a health club membership and were told that the husband and wife special rate would be a mere $186 a month. (Kind of odd, I thought to myself, that just inquiring about the cost of joining a place to make me healthier was giving me chest pains.)

My sister and I spent some time that evening reflecting on all this. We decided that our parents surely would think us fools for allowing cable companies to bully us into paying for TV when, in their day, a good set of rabbit ears (or a bad set and some cheap aluminum foil) could pull in just about everything worth watching. And, their sets didn’t need to be high definition, take up half of a living room wall or cost in excess of $1,000, either.

Okay, before I get into a rant simply about how everything costs more these days (after all, average salaries also have gone up – at least for those lucky enough to still have a job) let me hone in on this point: American consumers have brought a lot of this on themselves.

Simply put, collectively we are suckers for a great sales pitch and we are obsessed with keeping up with not only the Joneses, but the Gateses, the Trumps and the Buffetts. For many of us, it’s just not a vacation unless we spend $3,500 to $6,000 or more for a condo on a pristine beach – and then spend the week fretting over the cost instead of relaxing with family and friends. And, while I’ll admit a cell phone has become a necessity for most of us, I’m not sure we all need one that tracks our stocks, gives us up-to-the-minute scores on every sporting event being played and reminds us to water our plants.

And, while no doubt devices like the Kindle wireless reading device from Amazon are cool, their inherent danger is that we become dependent on their convenience. As one woman told me recently, she just hates lugging a book around. (Too heavy, perhaps? And, is she one of those people paying exorbitant fees for health club memberships?)

As health care professionals, we should keep this consumer madness in mind as we watch the ongoing debate about how to fix our health care system and what such a fix might cost. Old Doc Adams on “Gunsmoke” often would treat a bullet wound or deliver a baby on the prairie for a basket of eggs or an apple pie and call it even. Today, some hospitals will charge $15 for an aspirin and an insurance plan will pay it because, well, it’s not real money anyhow.

All I’m saying is, it’s hard to decry any health care legislation that throws our federal government further in debt by trillions of dollars, when we willing pay $4.38 for a soft drink. A few decades ago, we called such behavior conspicuous consumption. Today, it’s business as usual..