living underground in the real world

why people who consume less aren’t hurting the economy

And so it begins, The Long Emergency. It’s been beginning for a while now, but it seems to be gathering steam lately, doesn’t it? Scary. The talking heads seem to still think the answer is shopping – but what will we buy when there is no more money and no more jobs?

Us holier-than-thou hippieass losers who make it a point to curb our overconsumption are sometimes implicitly blamed for the sluggish economy, so I guess it’s time to reclaim our rightful place in the capitalist order by doing a little explaining.

Yes, some of the non-consumers I know truly are non-consumers – they never, ever go to malls, and even going to the supermarket makes them feel clammy (they should be out in the garden, or at their CSA pickup). Their cars rumble along on veggie oil, their clothes are proudly worn and raggedy, if they can’t make it themselves they won’t buy it.

But most thinking people strive for a balance between being in the world and being of the world – we know we can’t completely purge our lives of sweatshop crap, but we are always mindful about our purchases.

Let’s call us slow-consumers – it’s a more accurate term than non-consumers, don’t you think? I mean slow in the Slow Food way – reasoned, weighing the options, but with an edge of joyfulness at the abundance of the universe.

Slow consumers are actually good for economy – the real economy, not the bloated puffball about to explode in our faces any minute now. Slow consumers try as much as possible to buy real things from real people. Slow consumers know that real things cost money, money that goes to create real jobs, to buy quality materials, and to adequately compensate people for quality work.

The problem is that we’ve gotten so far off track. 100 years ago or whenever, if you couldn’t afford a table – a real table, made by a real person who knew how to build a table from literally the ground up – you didn’t have a table. Now everyone can have everything, and all we have is shit. Dollar stores and Target and the end of the universe, really and truly. It’s all your fault, Target shoppers.

It’s the year-round-tomatoes problem. I just don’t want to live in a world with cottony January tomatoes and uglyass plastic sweatshop tables.

Does this sound classist? It’s not. Could I posit that the reason Americans all seem to be completely insane these days is because so many of our jobs are so tedious and horrid? Why would someone working at Wal-Mart even want to live? Have you ever been in a Wal-Mart? It’s not classist to want to shut down these stores and for people to start businesses making tables and chairs and pots and pans. It’s not classist to expect that you should own one good pan instead of 10 cheap aluminum crap pans. It’s sane.

The problem is not a lack of money – the problem is of course the distribution of money. If we all accepted that we didn’t need so much shit and paid more for the shit that we do have to honest small businesses, we could have both jobs and dignity in this country. It’s obvious that people should be paid real wages for real jobs – at both ends of the spectrum. CEOs need to be paid much, much less, tablemakers need to be paid much more.

The question is: will the rest of the world come around to my way to thinking and “regress” (what TV people and the like are always accusing people like me of wanting to do) to a time when life was slow and expensive and beautiful and fun and in some ways harder, in some ways easier? Or will we all burn up in a giant fiery death ball created by our insatiable lust for more and more cheap shit and lack of acknowledgment for the consequences of everything all the time?

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