Skip to main content

Editors' pick: Originally published Dec. 14.

Call this a radically unexpected byproduct of the looming Trump presidency: the candidate known for evangelizing for a life of consumption just may usher in as President an upswing in simple, frugal lives. But there may also be a surge in conspicuous consumption, a kind of keeping up with the Trumps.

Right there just may be the next culture wars.

Predicted futurist Faith Popcorn: "As President-elect Trump—voted in by average Americans--stocks his cabinet with billionaires, we'll see a duality emerge and the rift between the Haves and the Have-nots deepening."

She went on: "The rich and struggling alike will also find a new allure in the Simple Life. Just as Trump is seen feasting on fast food, so will other basic American pleasures gain badge value - as a vote of solidarity with those who powered Trump into office. It's a nostalgia for 'the good old days.'"

While the tasting menu at restaurant Jean Georges in the Trump International Hotel and Tower on Central Park West runs $218 per person - for seven courses, from egg caviar to chocolate with stops at frog legs and foie gras - there just may be a run on fish fillets at the nearby McDonalds on Eighth Avenue.

In that vein Popcorn also predicted: "Watch as luxury goods boom, and hyper-customized concierge and on-demand services for the elite, skyrocket. Some of it will be seen in public, but it will be happening full-tilt in private."

To consume or not to consume, that is the 21st Century question. Which is it for you?

Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends

Some say that there is a sharp rise in enthusiasm for the frugal way of life. "Right now, I see a re-ordering of personal values towards simple living," said Emrys Westacott, a philosophy professor at Alfred University in New York State and author of The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less.

Is that case closed? Nope. Understand this: philosophers have wrangled about which is better, consumption or frugality, for at least 2,500 years and call this match undecided. For every proponent of frugality there is an advocate of consumption and a bottomline argument for the latter is that for at least 60 years the good times in the US economy have primarily been fueled by consumer spending. As we have bought new cars, bigger houses, fancy clothes and flashy jewelry, the economy has bubbled with abundance - more jobs, better pay, more happiness.

Los Angeles fitness expert Birgitta Lauren succinctly explained the social benefits of consumption. "When finances allow then spending to you heart's content (after you have covered your own needs, your family's needs and invested in the future) is the only moral thing to do to 'spread the wealth,'" she said. "Every time you spend money you enrich someone else. You employ someone else, you feed someone else, and their children, you put a roof over the head of someone else's family… you allow a business to not only stay in business but possibly grow and expand, invent new things, to employ more people… etc."

Lauren added: "There is nothing worse than a wealthy person being frugal."

But here's the money question: which - really - is the better life? Westacott offered his opinion - based on a close reading of the key philosophical texts."Simple living is associated with wisdom. People inclined to simple living are getting their values in order."

Personal finance expert Bob Lai added a kicker that frugality packs important side benefits. He elaborated: "Frugality is superior to conspicuous consumption in the sense that by being frugal we are not only reducing money spent each month but also reduce our energy consumption, greenhouse gas emission, and the amount of waste we'll produce."

Here's a blunt question: Is driving a 1975 Chevy Nova with a big V8 and few emissions controls wiser - and better - than driving a new $100,000 Tesla which produces essentially no pollution? That one for instance sharply illustrates just how treacherous the fault lines are in the frugality versus consumption debate.

Then the argument turns ugly. Said Jeff Mitchell, an entrepreneur based in Costa Rica: "I believe that frugality is just as often imposed on those who simply cannot afford much else. I think that those with little to spare can cast a negative light on unfettered consumption habits, but also on consumption habits that are relatively reasonable. It's just too easy to hate on those who can afford nice things when you yourself cannot. The issue itself seems to often devolve into a game of one-upmanship on both sides."

Press the experts and here's what it comes down to: It's up to you to choose your best life, frugality or consumption. It's not up to somebody else to tell you. And it definitely is not up to you to listen to them.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held 0 positions in the stocks mentioned.