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The day the world stops shopping
by J.B. McKinnon explores How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves
A book that dives deep into the “epidemic of shopping” that has infected the planet thanks to capitalism. There was a time when if someone was going shopping on an ordinary day, it would be assumed they were going to get groceries, that is no longer the case. Today it would be necessary to ask, what are you going to buy?
Our consumption has reached a point where our planet is filled with garbage and exporting garbage to another country has become a legitimate business.
The resource extraction and resource consumption cycle has pushed the climate crisis forward and our continued adherence to these decades-long habits will only make things worse.
We do not need to consume a lot of the things that we do. They do not add value to our lives. We just continue to consume them because either we have too much money, do not know what to do with our time or are very lonely in our lives and need something to distract us from that fact.
The book begins with a conversation with a Levi’s executive who is in charge of managing unforeseen events in the company. When asked what would happen if the world were to stop shopping at Levi’s for a day, he says nobody would feel the effect except for the company. If it went on for a week, the warehouses would start filling up but nobody would even notice. For a month, same. Maybe in 3 - 6 months, kids and pregnant women would begin to grow out of clothes and need a replacement but the rest of them would still have their pants on.
We have been taught to think of everything as a consumable. This is essential to save capitalism and to keep the growth coming. Clothes are not consumables. They are very much capable of lasting a very long time. Industries want to grow in double digits, the population barely grows by single digits and the products made properly should last years. Under such circumstances, how do you keep delivering growth?
Not just clothes almost everything in our lives today is designed to be thrown away. Obsolescence is built into them. Have you seen the small mystery holes that appear on your white T-shirt suddenly, how does that happen? Why does your phone suddenly slow down the moment a new one is announced? And we follow through by throwing things away.
We do not shop equally so we do not stop equally
The world is rife with inequity and consumption is skewed towards 10% of the folks on the planet who have access to outsized wealth.
What will rich people do if they are not allowed to shop? They would probably realise that their money is useless.
Most consumption amongst the richer people takes place not because there is a need but because there is money that needs to be spent. They buy clothes and shoes and electronics and other things even though they have enough already. A lot of consumption by this crowd is just for the sake of showing off. They just keep buying Veblen goods. They would probably be the ones that would feel the most hamstrung the day the world stops shopping.
On the other hand, the poor often plan purchases because they do not have disposable income to throw around. Most of them survive hand to mouth. They would not feel the halt as much. They would probably even be relieved if there is a discretionary purchase that is in the offing.
What do we do with our time?
Retail is open all the time because we are ONLY pursuing economic growth and it affords more window of opportunity to sell what if nothing was open?
There used to be a time when stores used to close one day a week, every week. Then the need for growth ensured that stores were open every day of the week irrespective of national holidays or religious holidays. The retail industry never stops. This has in some ways robbed us of time when we could interact with local communities and engage with neighbours. Just like the lockdown but with the freedom to move about. You know it might actually help solve a lot of mental problems that people are faced with. Disconnecting from commerce for a day can be super powerful.
What is worse is that shopping is 24X7 now thanks to the migration online. You can shop in the middle of the night as well. The day the world stops shopping will be a day when an enormous amount of time will be freed up for billions of people to engage with the real world. With other humans and nature, maybe even look up at the sky for a change.
The end of growth is not the end of economics - Look at Japan
Japan is fading away but it is still alive. They have the oldest population and many of the youngsters are also making a move back to the villages that they came from. They abhor the idea of making and selling things for the sake of it. Despite this attitude, the economy continues to grow in its own way.
A stronger and not a weaker attachment to things
One of the first things that is needed to create a world that stops shopping is to create a stronger attachment to stuff. The economy that we live in today teaches us to throw things away as quickly as possible. This is required so that growth can be kept ticking along. A world where we are more attached to our things will be a world where we repair and fix things. We would not throw things away at the first instance. We will make sure that our things remain ours for as long as possible. This will in turn reduce the pressures on resources that we have engineered today.
Businesses play the long long long long game
In a country like Japan, businesses are not run from quarter to quarter, they are built from generation to generation. They have some of the oldest companies known to humankind. This allows them to play not the long game that focuses on 10 years but the long long long game that focuses on 100 years or more. When you think in those timespans you do not make decisions that would leave the world uninhabitable in 100 years. Most importantly you are not seeking to extract everything as soon as possible. You know there is time.
Everything around us is built for consumption but it can be built for creating
We have built a world that is centred around consumers and not around creators. A world with much less shopping and consumption will be a world with many more creators who are making new things.
Generally, degrowth is offered as a solution to the current climate crisis, but this book shows that it would not just be a solution to the climate crisis but also the mental health crisis that is prevalent all across the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book.