Economic prosperity means having enough money to feed and clothe yourself and your family, pay for necessities like health care, educate your children and save for retirement with money left over for vacations and other luxuries. Borrowing money and living beyond your means in the hopes of a raise or promotion looks like prosperity but is less secure and doesn't protect your future. The term "superficial prosperity" suggests a lifestyle that appears prosperous but is either funded by credit or by an income stretched to its limit.
The concept of superficial prosperity is commonly associated with the economy of the 1920s. During this period large corporations took advantage of new radio and motion picture technologies to introduce sophisticated advertising campaigns. People became convinced that buying more goods would significantly improve their lives and would strengthen the economy by creating jobs at the same time. Stores and banks facilitated this thinking by extending credit. However, as personal debts mounted, spending slowed and American prosperity revealed itself to be superficial.
Consumer Culture and Debt
A culture of consumerism means that people feel prosperous when they have material things. Beyond food and a roof over your head, prosperity is linked with nice clothes, a fancy car and a large house. Easy credit makes attaining these symbols possible for many people. However if salaries don't keep pace with spending, then debt mounts, spending slows and the economy suffers. This kind of prosperity is superficial because it is based on borrowed money instead of real economic growth.
Superficial prosperity, as demonstrated by the depression that followed the 1920s, is insecure. Families relying on credit and hope to fund a lifestyle just out of reach, to pay for periods of unemployment or to fund unforeseen health care problems can quickly run out of money. When too many families exhaust their funds, then shopping slows to a minimum, businesses go bankrupt, people lose their jobs and the cycle repeats.
Planning for the Future
True prosperity includes having enough money for emergencies, your children's education and retirement. Salaries in a prosperous economy allow for a comfortable standard of living plus extra for contingencies and future planning. Superficial prosperity focuses on the moment. Some thought might be given to the future, but the assumption in a superficial economy is that growth is infinite and planning unnecessary. This philosophy allows people to take risks and try new, innovative things which can lead to either growth or poverty with little insurance for unforeseen events.