Readers responded to my December 16th article, entitled The Walmartization of America, Redux, with a fascinating and informed discussion about the evils of box stores.
Well, yes, but the article was meant to be a metaphor; the high cost of cheap spreads way beyond the walls of the box stores.
The fact is, the entire US economy is predicated on the notion that success is defined as getting us ever more stuff at lower prices.
And the fact is, we’ve bought into it, lock, stock and barrel. For too many of us, gewgaws, gadgets and gizmos – an unending stream of stuff – has become the primary criterion of happiness.
And it’s costing us plenty. Both in terms of our economy and our political system.
Never mind that we destroyed the US’s entire manufacturing capacity in the pursuit of cheap.
Never mind that we’ve traded in freedom, ethics and community for a 73-inch-flat-screen-3D-stereo-surround-sound-home theater, a happy meal and a smiley face.
Never mind that yesterday’s fantasy is today’s must have, and that we’ve yoked ourselves to a never ending and futile pursuit of stuff in the mistaken belief that more of it will make us happy.
The real deal is, our addiction to cheap has made us indentured slaves to the plutocratic system we protest. Their profits – the very existence of the model we decry – depend upon our willingness to support it with our addiction to cheap stuff.
Occupy? Not until we destroy this fantasy that chasing ever more stuff is the answer to our prayers, the wellspring of our happiness.
Fact: The apogee of happiness in the US occurred in 1957, when the average American family had a smaller house with one bathroom, one car, one TV – black and white – no clothes dryer, no AC, no stereo, in fact, less than half the stuff we have now. Yet since then, our wealth has doubled, but our happiness has declined, as psychologist David Meyers points out.
Fact: there is only a very weak link between wealth and happiness. Even the wealthiest – the Fortune 100 – rate themselves only marginally more happy than the rest of us.
And yet we build our lives around the Pursuit of Cheap.
It is our embrace of this de-humanizing and amoral system that enslaves our souls and empowers the plutocrats.
The good news is, we can seize back a measure of control from the plutocrats without sacrificing happiness. And no, it doesn’t mean we have to eat seeds and roots and do without every gewgaw, gadget and gizmo dangled in front of us. Just some, and we just need to be a bit more selective about the ones we do buy.
Here’s some specifics on how.
1) Use local banks and credit unions, and don’t forget to transfer your credit cards, too – forget Bank Transfer Day, we need a Bank Transfer Movement; a continuous, sustained and well-funded campaign to choke off the supply of cash to those who play roulette with our money for their gain.
2) Don’t buy from companies who won’t disclose political contributions and who support the agenda of the exploiters – If a company wants to give money to some truth-mauling SuperPAC or otherwise assume the rights of individual citizens then we should boycott them. Period. And if they don’t publically disclose who they contribute to then assume the worst and don’t buy from them.
3) Don’t vote for candidates who won’t disclose their source of funds and make it known to them. If there’s too much corporate money in their coffers, don’t vote for them even if they do disclose.
4) Support the constitutional amendment offered by Bernie Sanders to get corporations and corporate money out of politics.
5) Consider moving your investments to socially responsible investment funds. There are good returns to be made by doing good and it's easy to do. If you participate in a government or private retirement fund, insist on a socially responsible investment option.
6) Exercise your rights as a shareholder, and insist on a voice in executive pay. Stockholders own a piece of the company they invest in – they should have a voice in how the company uses their money.
7) Buy locally produced goods; the cheapest price isn’t always the lowest cost. When more Americans have jobs, our economy works. Literally.
8) Buy food that is grown sustainably, and when possible, locally. Eliminate the corporate middlemen. Shop at farmer’s markets and enroll in community supported agricultural programs. Save the Earth and improve your health.
9) Do the same for energy. Solar energy is now economically competitive with fossil fuels, which means clean, homegrown energy doesn’t have to cost more. It also means communities can keep the money they spend on energy at home rather than shipping it overseas or funneling it into the bonuses of fat cats.
Each dollar spent is a vote. It endorses the company who makes the product, provides the service, and the one who sells it. We, the 99%, merely by acting in our own self-interest, can occupy the economy and the marketplace and move the US toward a just, equitable, and prosperous society.
Or we can turn the US into one giant box store, and wander its aisles grasping at cheap until its shelves and our wallets are as empty as our souls.
The choice is ours.