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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Death Of Consumerism

It is funny how the world works in peaks and troughs, in the mindset of one ideology, then the alternate ideology sweeping through as a knee jerk reaction when there is a change of government, which is usually the people speaking. Here in Australia there was a definite feeling that the government had swung too far to the right under then Prime Minister John Howard. The people's reaction was to choose Kevin Rudd, who immediately ratified the Kyoto Protocol and apologised to the indigenous population to swing that pendulum as far left as he could possibly swing it at that time.

Five years ago there was too much consumerism. There were big bonuses, the Porsche club, the Aston Martin club, the big boat club, the 'I don't care how much it costs, just bring it to me now' club. And then it all started to vaporise after the downturn. The mode of thought became  'that executive's wage is this many times the average workers' and people started to question everything. It was coupled with the internet finally being able to give people a real voice and a chance to move information so quickly, to demystify every aspect of business and society. It trained people to unpick every price, to compare every option, to bypass the middle man, and, to wait; to wait patiently whilst until they saw the goods at the price they were willing to pay. It was, in effect, the beginning of the end of consumerism as far as I could tell. In my own humble experience, I have seen those that I deal with, especially when it comes to shirts and jackets, spend more time touching and feeling the cloth, asking for the origins and manufacturing methodology. Suddenly everything was being unpicked and every price was negotiable.

I thought about it a great deal today as the Reserve Bank Of Australia cut interest rates. The idea, as far as I could tell, was to promote more consumer spending. At least, that is my interpretation although I am sure it is far more complicated than that. However, I think consumers won't react anymore. They are far too clever, far too empowered by knowledge and they don't seem to be reacting to economic news the way they used to. It is as though they are all uniquely aware of what is going on and that the current mode of thought is much like African crocodiles lying under mud when the river dries up, slowing down the heart beat, making as few movements as is possible, watching everything die along the river bank and just waiting for the rains. However, and this is what I do not understand, most of this is merely a communal psychology, a subtle underlying agreement across six or seven billion human beings, that things are going to get worse before they get better. And it is incorrect is it not? Surely the best way to make things get better is to start spending money, and when Peter gets paid, he will pay Paul, Paul will place an order with Joe, Joe will start production and hire Jim and slowly, slowly the machine will begin to run again.

In the meantime, sadly, I watch the For Lease sign placed on the front window of so many retail spaces. I hear the news that so and so has closed up shop, that he couldn't compete with China, that Joe Bloggs down the road is struggling to keep his doors open and that if it keeps up, he will be gone by next June. And meanwhile, the whole system is slowly being strangled, not just here, but most likely in your country too. What a sad state of affairs that we can't all work out that it is a big big trick, and that all we need to do is make the bold step to say 'I believe in the future' and perhaps the machine will start to roll again. There was some advice given by the Bush Administration just after the Global Financial Crisis hit, probably the right advice at the wrong time, when it was said 'What can you do to help? You need to go out there and be the best consumer you can be'. Perhaps the time was wrong back then, but I think it might be sound advice now.

God bless you consumers and may you soon start parting with your dollars again, because money is like energy, it has to flow for you to see its magic.


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