What if we didn’t shop till we drop?
Supply chain worries underscore our compulsion to consume
YES, THERE’S THAT big meal, with all the talk of gratitude and fellowship, as people gather tomorrow with family and friends. But for many, it also serves as the pregame, an exercise in day-before-the-marathon carbo-loading for retail enthusiasts. The race comes on Black Friday when victory goes to those up earliest and fastest on the draw, whether online or in-person, in securing untold amounts of stuff.
That urge to consume is now colliding with something US shoppers are not accustomed to: A scarcity of some items, or long delays in their availability, due to supply-chain constraints fueled by the pandemic.
And what a great development that is, some say.
“Store shelves are emptying, and it can take months to find a car, refrigerator, or sofa. If this continues, we may need to learn to do without — and, horrors, live more like the Europeans,” writes Allison Schrager, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, for Bloomberg Opinion. “That actually might not be a bad thing, because the US economy could be healthier if it were less reliant on consumption.”
Of course, supply chain problems – coupled with the rise of inflation – are serious issues when it comes to food and other essentials. But when it comes to Americans’ overall insatiable appetite for buying more, is it such a great thing to be able to proclaim, “We’re No. 1!” – especially when so many of those things are made elsewhere?
Household consumption makes up 67 percent of GDP in the US but only 50 percent in Germany, writes Schrager. We’re living in larger homes – with more space to fill – than we used to, she says, and 30 percent of US homes now have two refrigerators. Clothing purchases have increased five-fold since 1980, with the average item worn just seven times before being disposed of.
Of course, lots of things have become much cheaper – thanks to the same global supply chain that suddenly has some kinks in it. But whether that’s enough reason to go wild with Amazon Prime is the question.
As Massachusetts consumer advocate Janet Domenitz recently wrote in CommonWealth, a “Buy Nothing” movement has sprouted over the last decade as a reaction to consumerism gone wild.
Schrager says it’s not a matter of shunning economic growth but rather considering what kind of growth to pursue.“Long-term, sustainable growth doesn’t come from going deep into debt to buy stuff we don’t really need. It comes from technology and innovation, where we come up with new products and better ways of doing things,” she writes. “Buying smart, while maintaining an openness to new things, can be the foundation of a more sustainable and growing economy.”
It’s a more measured approach to things we might like and enjoy. As with the meal many will sit down for tomorrow, the message is: No need to feel completely stuffed.