Meanwhile, the feeding frenzy continues, with roughly half the nation participating. Some bring weapons. Is it a sign of moral decline, or just hard times? Remember all those manufacturing jobs that went overseas because the American firms couldn’t compete on price, because the big retailers (looking at you here, Walmart) kept lowballing them? That was the beginning of the decline of the middle class. Once manufacturing showed the way and technology allowed it, other industries began the migration overseas as well. Now here we are, staring 9% (official) unemployment in the face, and the unrelenting pressure to consume continues. Why? Because increased demand perks up the economy…except that we don’t do much of the making of things anymore. We sell them, transport them, and throw them away when they wear out their welcome, but not so much with the making.
Or do we? I seem to recall a website focused on handmade crafts, and I personally know both a bead-maker and a jewelry-maker who produce beautiful things. There may even be more folks like that out there. You might even know some personally. If not, you can probably find them. And what better way to localize your shopping than buying from a neighbor?
There’s another way to subvert the current system: buy used. I daresay there is hardly a durable good in existence that one can’t find second-hand. Cars, computers, clothes; you name it, it’s out there. Some consumables, too: I see pencils, pens, and notebooks all the time in thrift shops, and I buy every Parker pen I find. Buying used does a few things, all of which are counterproductive to the dominant economic paradigm. First of all, it keeps money local, since most thrift shops are run by community non-profit groups. Next, it actually benefits the community, as the store’s income goes to support the work of the sponsoring organization. Third, it puts some constraint on the production and consumption of new merchandise. If money is speech, as the Supreme Court of the United States seems to believe, then we need to make sure our dollars are saying what we want them to say. Buying used and local is a wonderfully subversive way of “speaking out” against corporate economics. Not quite a wildcat strike, but definitely a slowdown.
There are some psychological effects as well. The “treasure hunt” element of thrifting brings a bit of excitement to the task, and the delayed gratification helps to put some distance between desire and fulfillment. In this space there is time to consider whether one really needs the thing in question, or whether something else will do the job. I find it much easier to say “no” to something when there isn’t a pile of them, or even one of them, in front of me. Considering the psychological manipulation that corporate marketers use to induce us into shopping, I think we should use every bit of leverage against them we can muster.
Let’s face it: the game is rigged. Marketers spend millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars to talk us into buying this or that. What resources are on our side? One of the underlying premises of a “free market” is that both buyer and seller have enough knowledge to make an informed decision on the transaction, but that is seldom the case. Do the tomatoes at the supermarket carry pictures of the poor migrant workers who picked them? Does the new shirt at Target have a photo-tag of the sweatshop worker, possibly a child, who sewed it? Not last time I looked. I would like more information on the origins of the shiny things I’m being seduced into buying.
“Where is it from?
What is it made of?
Where did that stuff come from?
Did anyone bleed or die for it?
Who mined the ore,
wrote the code,
wove and stitched the cloth?
How did it get here, and what did that cost?”
I’d like to see cost breakdowns like that on consumer goods, the same way food labels are required to show nutritional information. This information, to be truly useful, needs to be available at the point of purchase-not scattered across a range of obscure websites. Then, we as consumers could make some truly informed choices about how we
speak… I mean, spend our money.