Everyone knows it’s a tough economic climate out there. Jobs are hard to get, and easy to lose. People who are already in work are struggling to keep it, and anyone not already in the job market faces a long hard road to break back in.
Which strikes me as a little odd. I mean, I know I am economically naive, and not well versed in business matters. But stuff still needs to be done, yes? I understand that there is not as much money in the system (and where did it go? Did it get eaten?), and hence ‘discretionary spending’ is down – people are not buying the stuff they don’t need at such a great rate. But that actually sounds like an upside to me – not buying stuff they don’t need? It’s buying stuff we don’t need that is devastating our climate, wreaking havoc on our lifestyles, and creating a lot of very unhappy people.
Perhaps we should declare a moratorium on buying stuff we don’t need? Yet the realist in me (tiny and malformed though she is) understands that buying less stuff means, in turn, manufacturing less stuff, which means more people getting laid off (by which I mean “sacked” – why is “laid off” better than “made redundant” which is better than “sacked”? Will we keep changing the terminology every time the current term acquires the negative connotations? Of course we will. That’s what we do. That’s why no-one is disabled anymore… sorry, it appears my digression may have digressed…). Ahem. Where was I?
If we don’t buy as much stuff, more people will lose their jobs. So we are locked into an endless spiral – buy stuff, wreck the planet, keep people in work. Or don’t buy stuff and drive people into poverty. Except that buying stuff was also driving people into poverty – just different people.
We desperately need a new model. Capitalism has been a wild, entertaining ride, but it has taken us as far as – perhaps further than – we can usefully go.
But what can we possibly choose to replace it? I wish I had an answer. But all I have is a list of problems. There must be a model, a system, a way of living, that makes it more likely that everyone gets what they need. David Suzuki, in The Sacred Balance, identified clean air & water, food, shelter, love, and spirituality, as the essentials we all need. And globally we have the resources to make this happen. But we lack the will. We can’t make the leap from life as we know it into the vast unknown of taking care of everyone.
Some days I can persuade myself that if we all bought fair trade whenever possible, all supported organisations like Oxfam and Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), all walked, rode or took public transport whenever possible, and did all the right environmental & social things in every facet of our lives, it would all add up to a fix. But I suspect the real solution is far more radical than that, and it may take a radical catastrophe to make radical solutions feasible. Meanwhile I’m going to install solar panels on my roof, and buy a cargo bike to do all my local trips using human power, instead of petrol. At least I can say I am doing what I can. I just wish it was enough.