Doing less with less

July 28, 2008, 6:40 PM UTC

Actual news organizations that report real news today confirmed a trend that was noticed here several weeks ago, after a trip I made to Los Angeles: People are driving less. Back then, before gasoline prices swooped to the rock-bottom $4/gallon mark, there was widespread concern that there was no ceiling on the cost of travel, and the roads were noticeably more empty than in times past. I was there last week again and I also noticed that once we were no longer flirting with the $5 atrocity, folks were creeping back onto the roads and traffic was getting lousy again. Incredible, isn’t it, that what we can get used to?

That said, we’re all in agreement that people driving less is a good thing. It shows we’re all realistic, preparing for the future, getting down to the nitty gritty, making hard choices when the going gets tough and so forth.

What is less well recognized is that in response to the economy and the general state of things as they are or might be, Americans are doing a number of things less as they strive to manage the heck out of a challenging situation. For example:

  • People are eating less. This is partially because food is more expensive but also because, as a nation, we are physically fat. Even those of us who are not fat are likely to have little tummies where our washboards should be. Even fast food restaurants are serving healthier food that is, in its very nature, much easier to eat less of. The trend toward reduction in food consumption, begun on both coasts in the 1990s, is working its way inward to the nation’s gigantic midsection, where production of chicken-fried steak has showed its first CAGR decline since, well, ever. California’s recent law — the first of its kind in the nation — that outlaws trans-fats in restaurants is yet another step in the national effort to make food less tasty and appealing.
  • People are smoking less. Of course, those who do smoke are smoking for the rest of us. But they won’t be around very long. The rest of us are having difficulty finding a place where we might take up smoking even if we wanted to.
  • People are drinking less. There are times when I am sitting at a restaurant with a bunch of fellow business people and not one of us is drinking. True, it’s at breakfast, but I remember the 80s. Lunch is much the same. At most business luncheons the act of ordering a drink makes people look at you like you should be sucking on a bottle of muscatel in a brown paper bag. At dinner it’s a little better, but nobody comes into the office in the morning radiating gin from every pore anymore. It’s hard to see how this is helping the economy any, but it certainly fits in any omnibus of stuff that’s on the decline to no good effect.
  • People are investing less. That’s because many have less to invest. Those who DO invest are earning less from their investments, which gives them less to invest going forward. This is called a “vicious circle,” and we’re in it, although it’s far less vicious for those who refuse to be in the circle at all and put their money in something other than financial instruments, like a mattress or a coffee can.  
  • People are singing and dancing less.  For obvious reasons.
  • People are breathing less. The air is getting worse. Al Gore was right. We’re melting, melting! And boy, is it hot a lot of the time. This makes breathing far more difficult and anything that’s more difficult than it should be is done less, obviously.
  • People are reading less, writing less, advertising their products less, using social networks less, ordering from the prix fixe menu less often, shorting perfectly decent stocks less, laughing all the way to the bank far less…

There’s other things, too, I’m sure. The list is possibly endless. Feel free to offer your own. I’ll be happy to see them, more or less, at least until doing less is something we start doing less of.