ANTS AND GRASSHOPPERS
“Should we all be hyperopic?”
now appears to be the topic
everybody is debating.
Saving money is frustrating
for grasshoppers, but for ants,
who look on saving most askance,
it is a pleasure that you can’t
deny them, thinking like an ant.
“Saving,” ants say, “cannot hurt you,”
obsessed as they all are by virtue.
Savers, though, may have, of course,
the same affliction of remorse
that buyers have, when hyperopia
prevents them reaching the utopia
that buyers aim for when they shop,
and, locust-like, in stores grasshop,
and buyers, once they’ve had their fling,
remember food and wine and bling
that they acquired, being rash
with their credit cards and cash,
while savers are deprived of mem-
ories of joys that they condemn.
Guilt for every happy hedon
starts when they’re expelled from Eden,
but at least they can remember,
when it’s freezing in December,
the pleasures that in spring and summer
they paid for, maybe being dumber
than all their friends whose paradigm
was antlike in the balmy clime.
Hey, Primal Sin was not so bad
when you consider just how glad
the apple Eve and Adam plucked
made both of them. It’s usufruct
has helped us reproduce like mad,
which isn’t really very bad,
so long as we do not become
a plague of locusts, or succumb
to criticism from the ants
who do not understand bacchantes,
and talk about economy
and laws of Deuteronomy,
the sort of things no grasshoppers
would think of when they’re busy shoppers,
because they know the world will end
quite soon, and till then, they must spend,
while being bailed out by the Fed
though broke, and destined to be dead.
The moral of this poem’s topic
is: ants who’re always hyperopic
are far less fun than those myopic
grasshoppers, although both Aesopic.
Inspired by an article by John Tierney (“Oversaving, a Burden for Our Times,” NYT, March 24, 2009):
We interrupt this recession to bring you news of another crisis that is much more pleasant to deal with. Now that shoppers have sworn off credit cards, we’re risking an epidemic of a hitherto neglected affliction: saver’s remorse. The victims won’t evoke much sympathy — don’t expect any telethons — but their condition is real enough to merit a new label. Consumer psychologists call it hyperopia, the medical term for farsightedness and the opposite of myopia, nearsightedness, because it’s the result of people looking too far ahead. They’re so obsessed with preparing for the future that they can’t enjoy the present, and they end up looking back sadly on all their lost opportunities for fun. It’s hard to imagine this excessive foresight being much of a burden for, say, Bernard L. Madoff. Nor for the optimists who took out balloon mortgages (and the A.I.G. executives who insured them). But hyperopia does seem to affect a wide range of people in some circumstances, to judge from clever experiments with people shopping for bargains and redeeming prizes. Splurging on a vacation or a pair of shoes or a plasma television can produce an immediate case of buyer’s remorse, but that feeling isn’t permanent, according to Ran Kivetz of Columbia University and Anat Keinan of Harvard. In one study, these consumer psychologists asked college students how they felt about the balance of work and play on their winter breaks.
Immediately after the break, the students’ chief regrets were over not doing enough studying, working and saving money. But when they contemplated their winter break a year afterward, they were more likely to regret not having enough fun, not traveling and not spending money. And when alumni returned for their 40th reunion, they had even stronger regrets about too much work and not enough play on their collegiate breaks. “People feel guilty about hedonism right afterwards, but as time passes the guilt dissipates,” said Dr. Kivetz, a professor of marketing at the Columbia Business School. “At some point there’s a reversal, and what builds up is this wistful feeling of missing out on life’s pleasures.” He and Dr. Keinan managed to change consumers’ behavior simply by asking a few questions to bus riders going to outlet stores and to other shoppers shortly before Black Friday. The people who were asked to imagine how they would feel the following week about their purchases proceeded to shop thriftily for basic necessities, like underwear and socks. But people who were asked to imagine how they’d feel about their purchases in the distant future responded by spending more money and concentrating on indulgences like jewelry and designer jeans. “When I look back at my life,” one of these high rollers explained, “I like remembering myself happy. So if it makes me happy, it’s worth it.” Aesop told a fable of two types of people: the virtuous Ant who saves for the winter and the improvident Grasshopper who’s punished with starvation. But even the most conscientious Ants sometimes recognize the need to lighten up — and, with typical Ant discipline, will find ways to “precommit to indulgence,” as Dr. Kivetz discovered in a lottery experiment he conducted with Itamar Simonson of Stanford University.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 3/24/09