Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Our Present Condition

There's an interesting discussion over at TPM Cafe this week on Depression economics (economic, not personal depression). I can't pretend to understand much of it, given that I took (and dropped) only one Economics class in my life, but wanted to pick up on a couple of the less technical points. The first is that much of the focus is on getting us consuming again. While I'm not of the Mall is the Playhouse of the Devil school, it seems to me that we could use a little mindfulness in our consuming--buying things we need or want--rather than just hosting products on their way to the landfill, Goodwill or our next garage sale. Much of what is on offer at Target, WalMart and the Dollar Store could disappear from the world tomorrow with no noticeable deterioration in the quality of anyone's life. Unfortunately what really happens during recessions is that all the good stuff disappears from the shelves, to be replaced by junk that is cheap to produce and cheap to buy. I can only think that this happens because capitalism is desperate to sell us something, anything, just to keep the wheels grinding. And please note that I am not suggesting that people purchase only those things they need, in a reprise of the Maoist patch and patch again, but that we think about what we want just a wee bit more than "see it, want it, buy it."

The second issue that goes unmentioned is that a good portion of the population (about 2/3) really didn't have enough money to go shopping even in the before time. Most of the income of most people is spent on the necessities--housing and utilities, health care, transportation, food--and there's damned little left over for the mall. If they really want to get consuming going, the powers what control the economic sphere should give the poorest 2/3 of the population a wage increase. And no one is even talking about the population of the rest of the world, which would just like to consume some safe water and an adequate amount of food.

And finally, how much consuming should people do when little planet Earth really can't absorb all the garbage we're spewing out. Do we really want a world like Wall-E's, where we're forced to abandon most of it to the packaging left behind? Certainly we could do some simple things, like outlawing bottled water in San Francisco, which has the best tap water in the country. Or getting rid of the seven layers of packaging that we have to wade through to get to the item we actually bought.

1 comment:

annot8 said...

'Minds me of the years I spent on Molokai. Many folks raised their own chickens and steers, and had some kind of garden - for food or for smoking. I myself was grateful just to have electricity at night, and often heated a kettle of water on the hibachi to wash dishes with. You very quickly grew to recognize what was needed vs what was merely nice to have.