Wearing his “Grandpa Gone Wild” t-shirt, a 66 year old Hudson, Florida retiree was driven to jail by his daughter. The reason? When he refused to resod his weedy brown lawn, his neighborhood association filed a complaint. Since the community had his signed covenant, not complying meant he could sod or serve time. This gentleman remained in the slammer (as he called it) for 24 hours until a group of kind souls made his property presentable.
Where are we going? To why lawns are about more than grass.
Some Lawn History
Think Downton Abbey. Rolling grass hills said Lord Grantham was rich enough to have servants mow and fertilize acres of green hills that had no practical function. At Monticello, there is a good chance that Thomas Jefferson was copying European aristocracy when he grew the first U.S. lawn in 1806. The rest of us waited another 80 years for the idea to catch on. Like Jefferson, though, I suspect we were trying to transplant an affluent image about ourselves and our neighborhoods.
Our Bottom Line: Conspicuous Consumption
One of my favorite economic thinkers is Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929). The first to explain and stigmatize why we conspicuously consume, Veblen said it was all about status.
Through his description of conspicuous consumption, Veblen made fun of us in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Saying that more wealth leads to more wastefulness, he explained that the upper class has servants to wash, to clean, and to cook for them. The affluent spend their time engaged in sports and politics. To advertise what they have, they surround themselves with jewels, with cars, with art. And then the rest of us copy all of that through wasteful, aspirational purchases and activities that display our own ascent.
And that could indeed take us back to our lawns.