Is Consumerism Dead?
In a moment of utter boredom with the dismal TV schedule the other night I found myself way down the TV station list watching “Challenge”, wallowing in nostalgia with 1980s game shows. There was “Celebrity Squares”, “The Price is Right” and “Supermarket Swoop” Those of you old enough will remember that it was all about winning desirable stuff (that most of us didn’t have enough of at the time). The prices were amazing! Over £400 for a 26” TV that extended dust gatheringly backwards as far as it was wide and over £10,000 for a phallus shaped Ford Coupe with a boot that would hardly fit a couple of suitcases let alone a full complement of garden waste and other stuff to the tip! It reminded me that we really were enthralled by consumerism, the acquisition of household goods and economic growth so that we could buy ever more stuff.
It strikes me that we have now mostly got all the stuff we need to fill a house or could get hold of it cheaply second hand, or even for free through freecycle. We no longer get as excited by consumerism and economic growth. Perhaps we are even bored with it! However, I don’t think politicians have caught up.
Can our economy really continue to “grow” in the true sense of the word? Can we continue to use ever greater quantities of the globes natural resources to get richer and richer. (This is the dream our mainstream political parties still seem to be selling.) Or should we using different metrics than economic growth to measure our happiness and sense of well-being.? A modern flat screen TV is a much better device than the huge 1980/90s versions. Plus it is considerably cheaper and uses less energy and labour both in its production and use. This is true of almost everything from cars to washing machines. Is the future about doing more with less? Living within our means and eliminating the UK deficit but feeling no poorer because we produce things and organise everything more efficiently. Can we use less energy, buy less “stuff”, use communications to work more efficiently from home, maybe even eat less, but feel no worse off?
What people care about now is not continual accumulation of wealth (apart from an important minority on the breadline who need help pulling themselves up) but the feeling of well-being that comes from having decent, secure housing, a reliable NHS, good family networks, good food and drink.
That’s why the coming election feels different. The two main parties are still focused on the aspirations we had in the 20th Century but the electorate has moved on. We are now mainly worried about maintaining what we have in a world increasingly threatened by climate change and massive migratory pressure. That revolutionary Russell Brand summed up the feeling of many by saying simply “Give us something to vote FOR.” The parties we need are those that understand what is shaping our future (ie different energy sources, how and where we build our houses, making people healthier, more efficient work practices, inward migration, social cohesion etc) and their part in making it better than it might otherwise be.
Us rural types have always been better than average at living within our means. Husbanding scarce resources and managing the land so it is still fit to hand on to the next generation. We expect our politicians to demonstrate the same skill and understanding.
This article was first published in the Landsman magazine