Why Americans are Broke and Miserable


ghost of a dream

by: Stven Tobak

Want to know why the gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps growing? Because the haves live within their means. They don’t waste their hard-earned money on all the crap that Americans spend billions, maybe even trillions, on each year.

American consumers seem to have an almost insatiable appetite for just about any type of useless garbage that anyone decides to make in China for a few bucks and sell here for a few hundred. Which is probably why nobody has any savings and everyone complains they don’t have enough money to live on.

Actually, the problem is much worse than that. The all-consuming consumer is like a lifestyle choice that’s quickly becoming the norm. What’s it all for? Honestly, I really don’t know. All I do know is that it wastes far more than our money. It wastes our time. It wastes our lives. And it doesn’t make us happy. It makes us miserable.

Don’t get me wrong. Buying and selling goods is good for the economy. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about stuff that nobody needs or can afford. I’m talking about stuff that has no benefit. I’m talking about stuff that’s a flat-out scam. Here’s a surprisingly long laundry list, off the top of my head:

Cars for every purpose. We have minivans, SUVs of every size, crossovers of every shape, convertibles, pickups, and options and gadgets for everything but driving. I have a neighbor with a sedan, a minivan, a VW Bug, a pickup, and a convertible – for two adults and two kids (only one can drive and he has his own truck). Of course there’s no room in their garage for any of their vehicles. Too much junk.

Weight loss systems. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve somehow managed to become an entire society of obese people who spend billions on miracle diets, club memberships, and workout equipment. And have you noticed how everything is a system? Even a caffeine pill is a diet system.

Dog and cat food and toys. The pet food industry is about $20 billion and the fastest growing segment is the pricey stuff. My wife buys it. Does it do any good? I have no idea. They still die of cancer. Yeah, I know they’re like our kids, but still. My dog growing up had Alpo, a leash, a collar, and the occasional Liv-a-Snap. Throw in a stick and she was good to go. And she lived to 17.

Self help books. People are obsessed with self-improvement, time management, and leadership parables and platitudes. We spend billions trying to become someone we’re not. I don’t care whose habits they are, where you put the cheese, or what some guy says he can do in a 4-hour workweek. It’s all a waste. Find yourself, do what you love, work hard, be happy. That’s what works. That’s how you get ahead.

Vitamins, supplements, and miracles cures. Don’t even get me started on homeopathic medicine, colonics, hair growth, male enhancement products, and pills for your libido. They’re all scams.

Gambling. Not just Vegas, Atlantic City, and Indian casinos, either. How about the lottery? A sucker’s bet that rakes in billions. And the stock market. Think you can time the market or pick winning stocks? That’s funny; the pros can’t.

Sneakers for every activity. When did one pair of $20 sneakers become 6 pairs of $100 running shoes, cross trainers, basketball shoes, walking shoes, hiking shoes, and waterproof trail running shoes?

Sporting goods and gear. Everywhere I go I see basketball hoops – and nobody is ever playing. Sneakers are just the tip of the iceberg. We buy more sporting goods and gear than ever before and we’re all in worse shape than ever before. But I bet you’ve got closets and garages just full of all that stuff you don’t use.

Costco. Let me just say this. The Tobaks have enough toilet paper and garbage bags to last a lifetime.

Fast food. It isn’t that fast and it isn’t cheap. On the other hand, it tastes like garbage and is terrible for you. If you just stay home and learn to cook from scratch, you can get a healthy, great-tasting meal on the table for less. And no, it doesn’t take that long.

Foodie food. Just because you call yourself a foodie doesn’t make you a chef. It just means you pay way too much for all sorts of pricey stuff. We have a specialty supermarket near our house, sort of like a Whole Foods. They’re all over California. I don’t know how anyone can afford to shop there. I guess I could if I wanted to, but why? It’s dumb.

Kitchen gadgets. Kitchens are filled with all sorts of gadgets and machines these days. It’s nuts. Want to know how the pros crush garlic? They smash it with the flat blade of their knife. Bam! Crushed garlic. And pro blenders have an on-off switch. Mine has all sorts of settings and sensors, none of which work.

Specialty booze, wine and beer. Ever do a blind taste test of $100 versus $20 wine? I bet most people would like the cheap wine better. And how much of that pricey Patron Tequila with Cointreau and Grand Marnier do you think you can taste in a margarita filled with sour mix?

Water and sports drinks. Bottled water and sports drinks are a huge industry. It’s hard to believe that people spend billions on H2O, sugar, and salt. Don’t even get me started on energy drinks.

Smart appliances. These days everything from stereo systems and refrigerators to washers and dryers are networked and full of sensors and displays. All our homes are full of this stuff. And you know what? The more features and functions, the faster it breaks.

Designer clothes. When exactly did $20 sweatshirts turn into $200 hoodies? And when did $20 Levis become $200 Diesels? Watches, suits, handbags, shoes — it’s nuts. I wear t-shirts, torn jeans and Vans. Even that ain’t cheap.

Gadgets. Call me reactionary, but I think smartphones are making everyone dumb. I’m from the high-tech industry and get this: I don’t feel the slightest need to own an iPad and I don’t replace my phone or computer anywhere near as frequently as other people do. Why? Because there’s no reason to. I mean, why should I have to be ashamed to have an iPhone 3GS? It works fine. Really.

Beds. The best mattress I ever owned cost like $500, and I think that included the box spring. Know how much a Tempur Pedic or Sleep Number bed costs? Me neither, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the thousands. Our backs evolved for sleeping on the ground. How complicated can a bed be?

Here’s the thing. Life is for living, not owning or buying. Just ask any legitimate Buddhist monk and he’ll tell you: the less you have, the happier you’ll be. The simple things make you happy. Complicated things make you miserable. No kidding.

Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.


  1. I will add I cannot believe that the “marketeers” have the younger population convinced they HAVE TO BE “connected” 24/7!
    What a wonderfully perfect scam to separate them from their money, month after month, after month.

  2. The buyers of this endless supply of junk are the poor and lower middle class. What these people make means nothing because they turn money into shit faster than a horse turns hay into shit. Give every damn person in the lower 50% plus of the population $100,000 and within a year they will all be broke again. Redistribution is a senseless scam. It will not result in any change in where the wealth resides.

    Give these fools a pile of cash and they will hastily give it right back to the top tier of the wealthy or send it to the Chinese.

      • That amount is horse shit. A lot of that is owed back with interest. To say all debtors will default is just stupid, so you can pare down your alarmist number a bit. Oh and I didn’t hear you bitching about Bush’s two unfunded conquests.

        • Conquests? We haven’t conquered anything. What has changed? Nothing.

          We’re going to end up swapping one dictator for another in Iraq. Trust me.

          Tommmy can’t even fathom the Net worth Equation
          Assets-Liabilities = Net Worth

          He can only obsess with the debt, because somehow that is Obama’s fault. The fact that Assets have increased more than the liablilites is beyond his poor brains’ comprhension.

          • Part of the debt (I believe about $7 Trillion) was accumulated on Obama’s watch. Please enlighten us about the value of the assets that have been accumulated from that debt. You obviously do know the equation and our pal Tommy may not, but what has Obama done to increase the net work of the government of the United States?

          • You can’t just look at the net worth of the government for goodness sake.

            If congress borrows money to pay for defense contractors or companies to build roads and bridges the government net worth declines but private sector either business or household net worth increases as they collect payments from Uncle Sugar.

            The president along with congress really only have control over expenses, yes to some extent they can tweak the revenue number at the margins but when we have a hard recession like we had in 2008-2009 government tax receipts will drop dramatically and the politicians can’t do much about it.

            So? What is Obama’s track record on holding down spending? Pretty good.


            The nation’s net worth stood at $75T in December of 2008 now it’s $92T.


            Does Obama get credit for that increase? I suppose it depends on your POV. The increase is a fact though.

  3. Agree on the assessment,however being aware of your location in the Marietta area.
    I wonder if anything from anyplace got shipped anywhere for sale or use by road the other morning. You know,while the bastions of impending doom and liberation of funding for the “as stated and socially classified,as in your comment,evolved. You know,while they became sleepover customers at the local Chinese supplied building materials outlets, due to some black ice,and a dusting of snow.there.

    They all need to convert or trade up for the doom of the impending next changed climate commute.I guess. 🙂


  4. How is this argument of blaming the poor any different than the blame the rich argument?

    I’ll wait for a coherent response.

    Give everybody a $100,000 and it will be gone within a year. Hmmm is anyone adovacting that?

    Nothing like constructing a good ‘ol strawman and thrashing the heck out of him.

    Plus has anyone tried ACTUALLY TRIED taking from the rich and giving it to the poor? I don’t know of anytime in history it has happened but maybe you can enlighten me.
    So if we have never tried it how would we know it wouldn’t work? Because you Wile E. Coyote’s say so?

    If you run a capitalistic economy BY DEFINITION some will end up on the left end of the income distribution curve.

    So what are we as a society supposed to do with these people? Don’t tell me your’re for helping the deserving but not the undeserving, it’s not legislatively possible. Maxwell’s demon doesn’t exist.

    I guess poor people are just supposed to work their two minimum wage jobs and come home and stare at the four wall. Heck you self-righteous pr!cks would deny them mayo on their turkey sandwich.

    • The top 10% of earners pay over 70% of the taxes. That is a fact and it has been growing continuously since the mid 80’s. That Mr. Brains amounts to taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Who has actually tried it? The US government has every year for the last 25 years and probably more with no tangible results to show for it in the inequality department.


      • Hell dude look at the income taxes according to the CBO and reported by the left leaning CBS.

        “Buried inside a Congressional Budget Office report this week was this nugget: when it comes to individual income taxes, the top 40 percent of wage earners in America pay 106 percent of the taxes. The bottom 40 percent…pay negative 9 percent.”

        Brains in Ass conveniently never mentions such things like that. The rich it seems are paying the entire tab for everyone else. Don’t ya just love the illusions of fairness from the commie crowd?


        • Ummmm yeah because you’re talking about INCOME and the top 40% had 100% of the taxable income so yeah they paid 100% of the income tax DUH!

          circulus in probando

          A is true because B is true; B is true because A is true

          • The top 40% of incomer earners by the very definition of that term to not get 100% of the income. Do you really think it is healthy for the country for more than half of the people to depend on the handouts from others? If we are all in it together we all should be paying something. How does that work for the moocher class?

          • A) TAXABLE income which is gross income less adjustments, less exemptions and standard deductions or itemized deductions, try reading comprehension.

            B) The disgusting 47% meme has been debunked a gazillion times. To get to the 47% you have to include children 0-18 as American “freeloaders” retirees who only live on SS and non-taxable income, the disabled and the unemployed and those who end up paying no taxes becuase of deductions. Around 10% of working American.

            Even the people who don’t pay federal income taxes still pay sales, payroll, and real estate taxes, directly or indirectly.

            So now children are freeloaders? So I guess you expect children to work and pay taxes?

            So I will ask again. Have we cut income taxes too much because indirectly that seems to be what you’re saying. The poor should pay more income taxes.

            Not only are your fears unfounded your biting on the bait laid out by the likes of Romney, Luntz, et al. and you’ve taken it hook line and sinker.

        • Oh please. Leave the commie crowd alone. They have to villain-ize any “group” of people to further their agenda. The rich are easy pickings because people are easy enough fools to fall for the envy and jealousy traps.

        • The Democrats have always taken from the productive to give to the non-productive, they use the money to “purchase” the non-productive vote. It’s worked great for them so far, I hardly expect that to change. In the future when it gets down to one producer for every non-producer paying taxes (47% pay NO taxes now), what are the liberals going to do then(?) Chain the productive to their jobs/machines? Make them Work two jobs? well since the workers are making more, –they can pay more, — a really great plan to build America, and solve inequality.

          • Margret Thatcher said it best; Socialism is great until you run out of other peoples money.

            I’d like to think people would wake up to that fundamental truth about Socialism but know its a fruitless effort. Even rioting in the streets of Greece over their bankrupt government isn’t enough and I doubt it would suffice as a wake up call here in my country.

      • That’s because ALL of the REAL income growth since the ’80’s has been to the top 1%!!! That is also a fact.

        • Money chases value and that is why income has flowed to the high earners. The way most of the poor work and live is like repellent to money. The rich get richer because they keep doing what made them rich in the first place. The poor get poorer because the keep doing what made them poor. The poor people who change their ways climb the ladder to become rich. For every one that gets out another 9 don’t.

          Here is the little secret that folks who squawk about the 1% and the poor inequality fail to talk about. The names of the 1% change over time as do the names of the poor. When you are dealing with the cream vs. scum the numbers will always be unequal no matter what the government does. Why obsess about the 1% when it is really the 2nd and 3rd quartiles that drive the economy.

          Propose something to preserve and expand the middle 80%. There is nothing that government can do to keep the top 1% down and there is nothing the government can do to elevate the bottom 10%. It is easy to rail at the 1% but that railing does absolutely nothing but encourage the envious to blow off steam when they should be bettering their skills and attitudes.

    • You must be referring to the pricks in government and the asinine thought processes thinking anything can be legislated. If any finger pointing needs doing then point it those agreeing to legislation and “policies” enacted without due process. The stupidity and myopic view of “rules” of those in our government don’t think twice about throwing your child’s lunch in the trash; http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/30/us/utah-school-lunches-snatched/

      • Put down that Limbaugh kool aid! You ignore all the corporate welfare in this country that dwarfs social welfare. In hard financial times the first group to get demonized is the poor (see Hitler’s writings after the first world war.)

        • We spend nearly 900 billion in health and human services, welfare, and over another 100 billion in agriculture which the largest portion is food stamps.

          How much do we spend in this corporate welfare you’re talking about?

          • Well, there is the military budget, and that’s alot of corporate welfare. Consider it free security for Big Oil.
            You can also include every single tax incentive and abatement that businesses get for their sponsorship of Congressmen who write these credits into the tax code, count in subsidies to actually build the buildings in which they do business, and that corporate welfare bill gets real big, real fast.

          • Here’s a nifty graph of our budget. while defense is a large part, it is not the largest item and it is discretionary spending.


            But since I am the sociopath who never provides facts, just how big are these tax incentives and abatement these corporations receive?

      • You realize that vindictive conners were the one’s who did the snatching of lunches correct? To punish the “freeloaders”

        And you realize this wasn’t the first time it has happened either?

        It seems these Kaiser wannabes at the schools were sick of the “freeloading” parents. Except they weren’t freeloaders the kid’s parents hadn’t been notified the cards were negative, the parents could pay and were paying.

        So there you go. You’re just like the cafeteria workers ASSUMING you’re the only one who works hard for their money and that “others” are “freeloaders” based upon a tiny slice of information.

        Jesus man! SMH.

  5. So the conservatives argument/premise/ is to say that income and wealth are good proxies for hard work, business acumen, and ingenuity and I say there is no correlation for the population overall.

    You can point to idividual examples but overall I would postulate that this is ZERO correlation.

    • Exactly. For those that say capitalism rewards the best and brightest of society I would call your attention to Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Kate Gosselin, etc etc etc. The first generation nasty rich like Bill Gates that actually work for it end up giving it away.

      • I suspect if you were to do a poll on who watches these morons and enables them to collect so much money it will be the young and the uneducated who piss their money away as though is grows on trees. I seriously doubt if the people who have earned their money through intelligence and work spend much time watching dumb girls indulge themselves. Isn’t America great. Hollywood by the way where the dumb ass rich of the country come from seems to support Democrats by an overwhelming majority. Why do you suppose that is?

  6. dveatch says:

    February 1, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Margret Thatcher said it best; Socialism is great until you run out of other peoples money.

    I’d like to think people would wake up to that fundamental truth about Socialism but know its a fruitless effort. Even rioting in the streets of Greece over their bankrupt government isn’t enough and I doubt it would suffice as a wake up call here in my country.

    Another pithy example of bumper sticker conservative thinking that proves nothing. And your cherry picking Greece example forgets that the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France etc rank as the countries with the HAPPIEST, HEALTHIEST, WEALTHIEST AND MOST PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE’S IN THE WORLD.

    • WE ARE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. Our GDP is twice the size of the next closest country’s and is equal to the next ten highest GDPs.

      Our the countries you listed thrive because of their capitalism and our capitalism.

      Socialism is the maggot larva of communism. Why did you leave the most miserable socialistic countries off your list?

  7. Seriously. It’s the youth.

    Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.

  8. This is an excellent article. This guy thinks just like me, that is to say, correctly.

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