Today, in a world that seems like the March sunshine has driven everyone to distraction, most chat seems to be about pasties, the price of stamps and petrol.
Oh and there was a piece on the news last night about a potential whisky shortage. (Which reminded me that the world was once threatened with a tequila shortage which thank heaven does not seem to have come to pass…)
What does all of this have in common? Consumption?
And why exactly do we care so much about what we consume, and how much it costs? Long story, but rooted in the idea of ‘the market’ and that capitalism and supply and demand will make everything work super smoothly.
Except they don’t. In the case of whisky and tequila, and gas prices, it’s about a finite supply of a substance, be it grain, cactus juice or gas. If the supply starts to dry up, or looks like it might actually end completely, prices rocket. And yet, we build a culture that is dependant on finite resources, (perhaps whisky and tequila are a bad example, though perhaps not…), why? Because whoever controls the supply, controls the market and the price and can make a tidy profit. Thank you!
So then consider stamps and pasties. Small, everyday items that don’t cost the earth, but somehow are now subject to additional VAT or free market price setting. Why are we so upset by this? We can get by without pasties and stamps surely? Or use less now that they cost more?
But is that the question… Or is it more about why are THESE things being targetted. Items that are part and parcel of just day to day living. I don’t know quite what I’m trying to say about this. But there is no denying that some things are luxuries – eating out, a full meal from a take-away (as opposed to a snack), designer shoes, an overnight courier.
Of all of the items of consumer angst today, the one that truly upsets me is the price of stamps. Not because I don’t think a first class stamp is worth 60p, but because I think a decent mail service is part of what defined civilisation, and to lose that to the private, market led sector with all the connotations that implies, worries me.
Because essentially a decent cross country mail service is about communication not consumption, and it should never be the latter.
And with regard to the pasties and petrol (and whisky and tequila). Well, maybe we need to think about why we think we need these things so badly…
As Raj Patel says in The Value of Nothing: The opposite of consumption isn’t thrift, it’s generosity.