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A Modern ‘Solution’ to Consumerism – A Satire

January 26, 2014

It is oft said that consumerism is a problem – people buying things they don’t need, credit card debts etc. Now, I’ll be peddling a case for quality entertainment over the coming weeks, but frugality is something close to my heart. That means maximising the no. books and DVDs I borrow from public libraries, avoiding spending money unnecessarily after school etc. It means you keep track of the cash in your wallet – legal tender (we’ll come to this later). It’s often said that credit cards make you blind to what you’re spending, rather as the man who has cash in his wallet notices when it’s all gone.

Arguably, frugality is one way to become rich. If we view the ability to build up wealth as the key to becoming rich, then it’s obvious that savings = revenue – expenditure. Therefore, you can reduce expenditure (what you buy) or increase revenue (work more, get a promotion etc.) . Many would say that because there’s only so much you can cut your expenditure – you can’t go below nothing – yet revenue can expand indefinitely. This misses the point. Reducing expenditure is an interesting exercise because it forces us to try and be content and satisfied with what we have. This is important because while money does buy happiness, the gradient of the curve is remarkably gentle – happiness doesn’t increase quickly. Bluntly, “Money can buy many, if not most, if not all of

the things that make people happy, and if it doesn’t, then the fault is ours.” This comes from a study which, I believe, is life changing. I’ve linked the study after the article, but here’s a really good, short summary. Read it! http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/society-and-culture/how-spending-money-can-make-you-much-happier-20111220-1p3vu.html

The point is, until we gain control over spending and recognise things like how we adapt to purchases, I think frugality has a place, especially when it’s often experiences that matter, not things.

This image I thought was a rather admirable one till I had… an interesting day at the University of Sydney yesterday.

You’ll get the story after my short satire. Basically, if we don’t let people use legal tender to buy items then they’ll struggle to spend their money and we’ll solve consumerism. In this satire Lord Henry is the refined aristocrat, Professor Sillyscore the wonderful theorist, and Isabelle Henry’s maid. Enjoy.

….

Lord Henry took a sip of his scotch.

“If I understand you correctly, you’d wish to ban the use of cash to buy things?”

“Yes.”

“But, whatever for?”

“To solve the modern problem of consumerism!” exclaimed the Professor, “it is the plague that devastates the community, the disease that corrupts us…”

“Oh, I understand Professor. You know I had no idea my wife was diseased,” he remarked sardonically.

“Yes, it is a plague which…”

Lord Henry raised a hand. “Yes, yes, I get the point. You do realise though that people have been saving more since the GFC… at long term levels of saving.”

“Yes, but more must be done!”

Lord Henry finished his scotch, and nodded. “Isabelle, could get us another scotch please?” He was getting weary of this.

Isabelle departed.

“Professor, do you realise that in China there is a drag on economic growth because of a lack of consumption?”

“Yes, but I’m sure they’re growing fast enough.”

“You miss the point, Sillyscore. The point is that the Chinese have a different culture with regards to money. Solving consumerism requires a cultural shift by society, not banning the use of cash. You see… Ah, Isabelle.”

“Your drink, sir, and a missive from your wife.”

Lord Henry took a sip of his scotch and began to open the missive.

“Lord Henry, do you really think a cultural shift can occur?”

“Of course, of course…” he said, reading the missive. I told you, I don’t like the $10,000 dollar antique clock. I want the avent garde clock. “… though perhaps it might be assisted by some top-down reform. Remind me of the reasons for this scheme, Professor.”

“I’d be delighted Professor. You see, reducing consumerism has great benefits for happiness and satisfaction society wide.”

“I’m not interested in society’s benefits, Professor. Is there anything else?”

“Yes! A reduction in consumer spending will lead lessen demand-pull inflation, weakening inflationary pressures. Banning spending is also a sneaky way to stop the government having to pay pensions. You prevent people from spending and they’ll be forced to save!” exclaimed the Professor.

“And I’ll have to pay less in tax to fund pension payments. I’m coming round to the idea, Professor. There’s one problem though – cash is legal tender, so it has to be accepted.”

“My Lord, cash being legal tender doesn’t mean people are legally bound to accept it.”

It doesn’t!?”

“No, it’s ambiguous legally, except that banks have to accept legal tender.”

“But even so, private enterprise won’t voluntarily ban cash payments, I mean…”

“Well, Apple did it in parts of the US, but you’re right. It’s got to be government led. Can’t use cash to pay at any public facility. Can’t buy your $1.80 bus ticket in coins. Must have a cheque.”

“No-one’s going to write $1.80 cheques to catch the bus, Professor.”

“That ‘s the beauty of it! With nobody on the trains they’ll run to schedule!”

“Like the idea that the most hygienic hospital is one with no patients.”

“Exactly!”

“Professor, you’ve truly outdone yourself. Why, the reduction in the no. of late trains will even surpass when the government redefined what ‘late’ meant.”

“Thankyou, Lord Henry.”

“Come on, let’s raise a toast!”

They drank deeply.

….

Let’s inject a bit of common sense here. Lord Henry was right that a cultural shift is needed – personal responsibility is what really matters. In fact, the conversation was all true insofar as what was said. But there’s a lot more to be said. If you get everyone off public transport they’ll be on the roads, if you prevent people from spending they’ll simply work shorter hours etc.

So, what happened to me?

After perusing a public library and making a list of what movies they had that I’ll watch over the coming year, I then had a lovely lunch with some friends who I see once a year. I proceeded to make my way to the University of Sydney – I wanted to borrow from their collection and I had to sign up. I make my way to Fisher Library. Can’t get cards their – modern specialisation for you. Told to go to a building about 10 minutes away. Make my way their. Read the sign. “The card centre closed on the 17th, yet will reopen on the 20th” … back at the other side of the university. Oh well, more good walking to be done (I’ve walked for around 40 minutes since getting off the train) ; it’s understandable that the person at Fisher Library – security – had it wrong considered it changed that exact day. So, with a bit of work I found my way to the new card centre. Wait in line, and apply. They don’t take cash. Limiting the payment options is one way to prevent people from reading books…

Of course, the application form said nothing of this. And, the stated photograph guidelines actually didn’t apply… though I had a back up. Suffice to say though, I was very irritated at this. A gentleman does not make a scene though, so I began the long walk back. Besides, the lady was doing her job; probably no cash allowed so that documentation of purchases is kept more easily. Luckily, I had a good book with me. Got off the train, just missed my bus home, and decided to walk. Got home 5 minutes before the next bus. All up, probably 2-3 hours walking yesterday. Walking calms the mind.

The end message is this – considered solutions must be raised to issues like consumerism. We must not have knee-jerk reactions to problems, and ought to advocate personal responsibility akin to traditional honour systems. These solutions, like how we live our lives, often have a certain simplicity to them. We ought to seek on satisfaction with simple treasures, and hope that institutions do the same.

Remember, legal tender does not have to be legally accepted.

http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dtg/DUNN%20GILBERT%20&%20WILSON%20(2011).pdf (Read this study, it’s remarkable)

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