November 28 2016
Happiness/Sanity

Shopping is not your Civic Duty

Shopping until you drop...The gospel of frugality has a lot of different branches.  Some people are looking to survive paychecks that don’t go far enough. Others embrace minimalism in the hope of finding peace and simplicity.  Some are working to ensure a secure, or even early, retirement. Many care about wastefulness and the health of the planet.  I have my own mix of all of these motivations to varying degrees.

I’m not monastic about money.  Sometimes I’m disciplined, other times I’m not.  But one mainstream American idea that I totally reject is that shopping is somehow our civic duty.  That we should all breathe a sigh of relief when people holding on to televisions for dear life get trampled at Target on Black Friday.  I just don’t think that feeding the Wall Street profit machine should be our number one national priority.

Do I really win, if Walmart wins?

I try not to support businesses I disagree with, or that are so large, they have an outsize influence on our society.  Our corporate overlords… their existence disturbs me.  They are too big and too powerful.  Their voices are too loud.  But since I can’t re-write our bribery — er, pardon me –our campaign finance laws, my only small power is to avoid giving them my money.  Unfortunately it is never an easy feat. I spend lots of energy researching this, only to succeed less than half the time.

Sorry kids, but at least you have your first hip hop album cover...
Sorry kids, but at least you have your first hip hop album cover…

For example, I pondered getting an artificial Christmas tree this year so I could put it up early and find the perfect shape and size for my small apartment.  After much research, I realized my options were to spend way more money than I could afford, or to bring an enormous toxic PVC bomb into my home.  Simple… abstinence.

But other things are not so easy.

Cereal, toothpaste, ketchup, sneakers, clothing…  All these things are a minefield.  But there’s no time to do comprehensive research on every single company that makes every single product I buy, try as I might. Shopping on Amazon alone is cause for constant grief and self-reproach.  I try to avoid it and I’m willing to spend slightly more for something if I can get it from a company that is lower on my mental list of all-powerful evil corporations.

And forget about toys for Christmas. You can get away with those quaint hand-crafted non-toxic German toys when your kids are 2.  But they mostly won’t fly now.  My kids want Pokemon and Star Wars toys, Legos and video games. I’m not going to go full hippie on them at Christmas.

Magical coziness... my weakness.
Magical burrowing coziness… my weakness.
Like I said, I’m not a monk.

I have felt that ping of joy over a new treasure, including ill-advised attempts at self-soothing on a bad day.  I’ve regretted many of these purchases, though they’re rarer since I paid off my debt.  I do get pleasure from things that make my nest comfy and warm, or create the perception that the world is as I would like it to be.  Basically, I spend money to create illusions sometimes. This is my weakness.

But elsewhere, I have obliterated the consumer porn, the worship of brands and the fantasy that a constant influx of new and more stuff equals happiness.

And I sure as hell do not care if Apple’s stock price goes up.  Even when I look at my money.  I just don’t.  I’m invested in the market, of course, and my investments include companies whose influence over our lives I am not ok with.  But I don’t believe that their rising stock prices should be the ultimate goal of civilization.  If the valuations of companies that do not represent my values go down, even if they’re in one of my index funds, I’m more than fine with that.  Actually, I’m thrilled when harmful companies perform poorly, even if my IRA takes a dip.

I think our planet and certainly our country, would be a better place if we focused more on the overall well-being of people than the well-being of the “economy.”  That may seem like blasphemy because we are all hooked into the economy and we all need jobs to survive.  But the well-being of ordinary people never seems to be what people are actually talking about when they fret over…

THE “ECONOMY”

The “economy,” for the people who are most in charge of shaping it, means stock prices. Not jobs. (Except inasmuch as they influence stock prices.)  Certainly not the general happiness, health, welfare or enlightenment of the vast majority of people.  And the thing about stocks is that, to have any value whatsoever, their price needs to travel in a constant upward trajectory.  If they are not going up, they are of exactly zero use.

And for stock prices to go up and up forever means companies need to always be making more and more money.  “A fuckload” (pardon my French) is not enough. It needs to be more than yesterday.  That means more sales, more shoes, more drugs, more toothpaste, more cereal, more toys, more phones, more houses, more calories, more credit default swaps, more people!

This “economy” is based on never having enough and always needing more.

By this logic, a person who is generally satisfied and has enough stuff most of the time, who has all their basic health, safety and education needs covered, and the freedom to enjoy life, is bad for the “economy.”  And it is why the people who make a zillion dollars every year need more. Why companies that lavishly enrich shareholders, must still work So Hard to avoid paying a fair wage, or taxes.  And why they must squelch regulations that are designed to protect people, our health and the environment.

“Business is business, and business must grow.”  -The Onceler

More. More. More. The economy does not have to be weighted so heavily on this Wall Street-centric model. But it is. This philosophy governs everything, despite it having been clearly demonstrated that most Americans are left behind when we focus only on growth for investors. Everything we do is in the service of promoting stock prices. Which is all well and fine until everything else is ruined.  What happiness will our monopoly money bring us when not one neighborhood restaurant or mom and pop can stay in business because only HSBC and Starbucks can afford a store front? Or when we’re all drinking Flint-inis every time we turn on our faucet?

I remember being implored to “go shopping” after September 11th, at that moment of great national tragedy and unity.  We were not asked to volunteer, or help people.  Or engage in a cause.  Or inspire anyone.  Nope, just shop.  We don’t need citizens, was the subtext, just consumers.  Shopping – our civic duty!

This is a deeply depressing worldview.  I’m not buying it.

 

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  • I love this! You are so right that when they talk about “the economy” they’re not focusing on the “economy” of the regular person – only on the Wall Street beneficiaries. We’d all be better off if we realized that enough is enough and quit this national shopping addiction that’s driving us into the ground. Definitely sharing this!

    • Thank you Shelley. Now that I get a panic attack every morning when I read the newspaper, I am more determined than ever that with-holding our money is the only small power we have as citizens. -Linda

  • “I think our planet and certainly our country, would be a better place if we focused more on the overall well-being of people than the well-being of the “economy.”” Exactly. Well said, Linda! I, for one, am very bad for the “economy”.

    • Thank you Amanda! I just think there are other ways to promote an economy that supports people, especially small business, and that doesn’t necessitate trashing the planet and buying more and more crap, cheaper and cheaper from the largest most powerful corporations in the world. It’s like when people argue that lowering the minimum wage is “good for the economy” because there are more jobs. Well yes, by that reasoning if you have full on slavery, there are even MORE jobs! Except, it is not helpful for the people actually working. Why are so many people on board with this reasoning?! Oy.

  • I’m with Amanda – that was the phrase that hit me too. I’ve had lots of debates about what we should measure on and I just can’t accept that maximizing in GDP is a good proxy for well-being.

    My wife is a stay at home mother so her contributions to raising our children don’t get counted in GDP, but if she was working and paying for daycare, both of those jobs would.

    I’m not saying every mom should be home with their kids, but for us it is the right choice for our well-being despite the fact that she is now “missing from the workforce”

    Let’s find a better measure or better yet, maybe we don’t have to focus on maximizing anything as a country – maybe we can focus on ensuring people have enough and let them lead from there.

    • Yes! Health, happiness, fairness, education, a healthy planet – these are not such outrageous demands, and they needn’t be so costly that half of us have to be sold into slavery to pay for them. -Linda

  • I love your point of view. You are totally nailed it about how economy is not focus on the well-being of us, but for the Wall Street and large corp who wants to make money from us. I believe that I belong to the category of bad for economy, as I have hardly went shopping (except for food and books cuz I need them) over the past four years, and I am satisfied live with basic necessities, and I have enjoyed life much more than I ever did. Increasing in GDP and stock value does not mean the increase in our well-being, and hope more people can realize that. Thanks for this candid article!.

  • In our economy, a corporation’s every action is rooted in delivering shareholder value. I JUST listened to the VP of marketing for a major NA corporation talk openly about the company’s response to a major natural disaster as being one of the most successful PR/marketing moves over the past year.
    No surprise, but still very sad. And I agree Linda, withholding our money really is our only small power. It’s too bad so many are apathetic, as collectively, consumers could wield all of the power.

  • Loved this!!!! This expresses so much of how we feel and the struggles we go through ourselves. We completely agree that our nation is obsessed with shopping and advertising controls our population. We don’t have children yet, but were just having this discussion about toys and how the hell we’re going to explain to people not to buy our kids gifts and how it’s hard to “deprive” them of everything. But once again, it’s because we’ve been taught that not having an object is lacking in something greater. Glad to hear your views and so entertaining! Love the way you write!

    • Ah, thank you Aleks! It’s funny because it is the stuff other people get your kids that is kind of the worst. I know the things my kids love and when I do buy them something, I know that it will inspire them, or be fun or interesting or whatever. But there is no end to the crap that materializes from family other members. I have gotten very unsentimental about getting rid of things. It’s the only way! Thanks for reading, for commenting… -Linda xo

  • Wow! This is probably one THE top articles I’ve read on a PF blog. I’m not joking. Have you seen the documentary “I AM”, by Tom Shadyac? Pretty much about everything you said. Of course, there is Annie Leonard and Juliet Schor. I am friends with an economics professor who promotes a ‘steady state’ economy. This is pretty much the same concept you just talked about: steadystate.org

    • Wow – thank you so much for the very kind and encouraging words. My blog is small, so it really means a lot to me to get that kind of feedback. I am a big fan of Annie Leonard, but the others I will need to check out, for sure. Thank you again! -Linda

    1. Primal Prosperity 10:57pm 13 January - 2017 - Reply

      Wow! This is probably one THE top articles I’ve read on a PF blog. I’m not joking. Have you seen the documentary “I AM”, by Tom Shadyac? Pretty much about everything you said. Of course, there is Annie Leonard and Juliet Schor. I am friends with an economics professor who promotes a ‘steady state’ economy. This is pretty much the same concept you just talked about: steadystate.org

      • Brooklyn Bread 08:44pm 14 January - 2017 - Reply

        Wow – thank you so much for the very kind and encouraging words. My blog is small, so it really means a lot to me to get that kind of feedback. I am a big fan of Annie Leonard, but the others I will need to check out, for sure. Thank you again! -Linda

    2. […] Brooklyn Bread writes shopping is NOT your “civic duty”. […]

    3. Aleks F. 05:17pm 05 December - 2016 - Reply

      Loved this!!!! This expresses so much of how we feel and the struggles we go through ourselves. We completely agree that our nation is obsessed with shopping and advertising controls our population. We don’t have children yet, but were just having this discussion about toys and how the hell we’re going to explain to people not to buy our kids gifts and how it’s hard to “deprive” them of everything. But once again, it’s because we’ve been taught that not having an object is lacking in something greater. Glad to hear your views and so entertaining! Love the way you write!

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:24pm 05 December - 2016 - Reply

        Ah, thank you Aleks! It’s funny because it is the stuff other people get your kids that is kind of the worst. I know the things my kids love and when I do buy them something, I know that it will inspire them, or be fun or interesting or whatever. But there is no end to the crap that materializes from family other members. I have gotten very unsentimental about getting rid of things. It’s the only way! Thanks for reading, for commenting… -Linda xo

    4. Mystery Money Man 08:20pm 30 November - 2016 - Reply

      In our economy, a corporation’s every action is rooted in delivering shareholder value. I JUST listened to the VP of marketing for a major NA corporation talk openly about the company’s response to a major natural disaster as being one of the most successful PR/marketing moves over the past year.
      No surprise, but still very sad. And I agree Linda, withholding our money really is our only small power. It’s too bad so many are apathetic, as collectively, consumers could wield all of the power.

    5. Julie Cao 01:15pm 29 November - 2016 - Reply

      I love your point of view. You are totally nailed it about how economy is not focus on the well-being of us, but for the Wall Street and large corp who wants to make money from us. I believe that I belong to the category of bad for economy, as I have hardly went shopping (except for food and books cuz I need them) over the past four years, and I am satisfied live with basic necessities, and I have enjoyed life much more than I ever did. Increasing in GDP and stock value does not mean the increase in our well-being, and hope more people can realize that. Thanks for this candid article!.

    6. Chris @ KeepThrifty 12:36pm 29 November - 2016 - Reply

      I’m with Amanda – that was the phrase that hit me too. I’ve had lots of debates about what we should measure on and I just can’t accept that maximizing in GDP is a good proxy for well-being.

      My wife is a stay at home mother so her contributions to raising our children don’t get counted in GDP, but if she was working and paying for daycare, both of those jobs would.

      I’m not saying every mom should be home with their kids, but for us it is the right choice for our well-being despite the fact that she is now “missing from the workforce”

      Let’s find a better measure or better yet, maybe we don’t have to focus on maximizing anything as a country – maybe we can focus on ensuring people have enough and let them lead from there.

      • Brooklyn Bread 12:57pm 29 November - 2016 - Reply

        Yes! Health, happiness, fairness, education, a healthy planet – these are not such outrageous demands, and they needn’t be so costly that half of us have to be sold into slavery to pay for them. -Linda

    7. Amanda @ centsiblyrich 10:19am 28 November - 2016 - Reply

      “I think our planet and certainly our country, would be a better place if we focused more on the overall well-being of people than the well-being of the “economy.”” Exactly. Well said, Linda! I, for one, am very bad for the “economy”.

      • Brooklyn Bread 11:37am 28 November - 2016 - Reply

        Thank you Amanda! I just think there are other ways to promote an economy that supports people, especially small business, and that doesn’t necessitate trashing the planet and buying more and more crap, cheaper and cheaper from the largest most powerful corporations in the world. It’s like when people argue that lowering the minimum wage is “good for the economy” because there are more jobs. Well yes, by that reasoning if you have full on slavery, there are even MORE jobs! Except, it is not helpful for the people actually working. Why are so many people on board with this reasoning?! Oy.

    8. shelley 09:59am 28 November - 2016 - Reply

      I love this! You are so right that when they talk about “the economy” they’re not focusing on the “economy” of the regular person – only on the Wall Street beneficiaries. We’d all be better off if we realized that enough is enough and quit this national shopping addiction that’s driving us into the ground. Definitely sharing this!

      • Brooklyn Bread 10:21am 28 November - 2016 - Reply

        Thank you Shelley. Now that I get a panic attack every morning when I read the newspaper, I am more determined than ever that with-holding our money is the only small power we have as citizens. -Linda

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