Wednesday, September 21, 2016

To Consume or Not To Consume – That Is A Choice

That statement presents a Catch 22, a conundrum, if you will.

We live in a capitalistic society. Capitalism is defined as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

More simply stated, we the consumers have choices and in most cases, with the exception of certain monopolies, we actually control the economy and whether certain businesses succeed or fail. That's pretty awesome power. And, as with virtually everything else in life, there are advantages and disadvantages, benefits and abuses with this kind of system.

We live in a Democratic-Republic, as far as the governmental facet of the U.S. society. That means (or is supposed to mean) that the government operates under the power and authority of the citizens (democratic), but laws and day to day operation of the government is delegated to elected officials elected by the citizens to transact the business of government for the citizens. It's not my intention to make this a civics lesson or talk politics. I'm simply stating the definitions.

China has also embraced a Capitalistic economic system. It hasn't always been that way. China became a country operating under the Communist governmental model in October 1949 defined as “a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property.” Additionally, in most Communist countries, the citizens don't own homes, they are assigned where they will live. They are assigned jobs and paid what the government chooses to pay, etc.

Until the later 80's and beginning of the 90's, China didn't embrace the Capitalistic economic model. When the Communist government realized how huge the economy was in tiny Hong Kong, a small chunk of China that had been under British control for 150 years, the People's Republic began converting their own economy. One small town across the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen, 1979 population 30,000, became China's answer to Hong Kong. It was estimated at one time 97% of all the construction cranes in the world were busy building Shenzhen into what is now a commercial, manufacturing city of over 10,000,000 people. The Chinese economy ultimately exploded under Capitalism and became a world economic power, now second only to the U.S., passing Japan, Germany and Great Britain. Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997 adding to that exploding economy.

When I visited China in the summer of 1990, the Chinese interpreter/guide on the bus I was riding on apologized for a minor traffic jam because he said, “now that Beijing has 20,000 motor vehicles, they have traffic jams.” There are currently an estimated 6 million motor vehicles in Beijing. Quite an increase in only 26 years. The difference is, of course, the Capitalistic economy that has grown by awesome magnitudes.

To Consume or Not To Consume

Back to my original statement. We each have choices to make. We can buy and consume any of the untold number of millions of items available in this free market system. Or, we can choose to be a minimalist and buy and consume only that which we actually need. I can tell you categorically, no one needs everything. That helps simplify the buy/consume choices.

The Catch 22 or conundrum is also simple. If somebody doesn't buy and consume something, businesses (large and small) will ultimately fail and go out of business. This means a few, tens, hundreds or even thousands of people will lose their jobs, be unemployed and have no money to even buy and consume the absolute basic necessities of life. To put it another way, the entire economic system will eventually collapse and we could potentially be living under a Communist system and/or the world could turn into a “Mad Max” (the movie) scenario.

It is a Catch 22. If you buy lots of “stuff,” you end up with little left in the way of personal financial resources or, worse yet, in debt up to your ears with lots of “stuff” you need to store (or warehouse – spawning another new business, private rental storage units that cost you more money for “stuff” that is constantly depreciating and actually becoming obsolete and worthless). But, you are supporting the Capitalistic economy. Raise the flag. Hip! Hip!

On the other hand, IF, like a growing segment of the population, you become a minimalist, you may ultimately, along with others embracing a minimalist philosophy, could actually be instrumental in causing businesses and even entire industries to fail, leaving vacant offices, stores and factories to mention a few. Has your personal philosophy to buy less and only what you and your family actually need to live comfortably become “unAmerican?” Will you be ostracized for being a minimalist?

You see the problem here, don't you? You're sort of damned if you do buy into the massive consumerism/materialistic Capitalistic mentality or you're damned if you don't.

Hey! Here's another thought what if it's your industry that fails or your small business and you're one of the people put out of work and on the street? Think about all the buggy whip makers, the vinyl record pressing plant employees, the Studebaker auto workers, the agricultural workers and the list can go on nearly endlessly, who have been put out of work because people no longer needed or wanted their products or couldn't afford the products due to obsolete technology.

Personally, I liked some of Studebaker's auto designs. And, there was a certain amount of negative impact I had on the vinyl record industry when I ran my high-speed audio cassette duplication businesses. Of course, then the CD came in and negatively impacted the audio cassette. And the online digital streaming and download industry has had a negative impact on the CD. Oh yeah, and there are no more Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Saturns, Mercurys, DeSotos, Plymouths and a number of other brands and kinds of products.

The Cigarette, Alcohol and Prescription Drug Industries

Here are three questions for you. I'm not moralizing or criticizing anyone. I'm simply asking yes or no questions.

  1. Does anyone NEED to smoke cigarettes?
  2. Does anyone NEED to drink alcoholic beverages?
  3. Does anyone NEED all kinds of prescription drugs?

The obvious answer to the first two questions is NO! These are 100% voluntary personal choices. The answer to number three is a qualified maybe. It's scientifically proven fact that cigarettes and alcohol are addictive substances and a significant number of people will become addicted to them typically resulting in negative impacts to the individual and, often, those around them including family, friends, employees and customers/clients.

Prescription drugs are a slightly different story. They are prescribed by your trusted healthcare provider. So, they can't be wrong, right? Wrong? Just because you see it advertised on TV or in a magazine and your doctor prescribes it doesn't mean you NEED it. As a matter of fact, I watched a commercial on TV the other night and had my stopwatch ready. It was for, yet, another new drug for some specific thing. I started the stopwatch at the beginning of the 1 minute commercial. At about 20 seconds into the commercial the disclaimers, side effects, possible negative impacts this drug could have on someone taking it took up the rest of the 60 seconds, ending with “Ask your doctor if XXXXXXX is right for you?”

Often, these drugs may have some positive results for you, but you also lose some quality of life due to the side effects. So, the doctor then prescribes another drug or two or more to counter the side effects of the first drug. Then there may be side effects from the secondary drugs that require other drugs to counteract those side effects. There are actually people, typically in their senior years, who may have as many as 40 or more prescriptions. They have to take them everyday in a specific prescribed order and time. So, what happened to quality of life?

Am I making a point here? BUT, there is another side of the coin. IF we flat out stopped smoking and closed all cigarette businesses, how would that impact the economy. The domino effect is far reaching and staggering. Just to mention a few industries that would be directly impacted – agriculture, shipping, energy (fuel), energy (utilities), cigarette machinery manufacturers, plant and grounds maintenance, chemical, paper, printing, ink, wholesale distributors, retailers, healthcare, chemo therapy drug manufacturers, radiology equipment manufacturers, wig makers, cosmetic manufacturers and these are only the major players.

Few people ever follow the trail to see where all those dominoes lead. The same is true for the alcohol industry. And the pharmaceutical industry is probably even more far reaching.

Being a consumer is an awesome responsibility. A responsibility few people imagine. But, by the same token, being a wise, frugal and conservative (minimalist) consumer is just as important and responsible.

How many people NEED a Ferrari? They currently range in price from a low of $188,000.00 to an estimated top end of $400,000.00. Guess what? If you need to run to the local supermarket for a few groceries, a Ford Focus – around $20,000 will do exactly the same job.

How many RVers NEED a $130,000 Sprinter Class B motorhome? How many need a 45', custom-built, Prevost bus conversion that may cost from a low of $1,500,000.00 to $3,000,000.00 or more?

You can dream up more examples if you'd like. The basic answer is NOT MANY! It would be my guess that in the entire world, perhaps 1% of the 7.4 billion population or about 74,000,000 people (and probably only about 10% of those) are really in the market for those kinds of things. The mark-ups are astronomical on those kinds of items. They are not practical for the 99% plus of people in the world, so – WHO CARES who buys and wants them.

The Choices Are All Ours

So, let's get realistic. You and I are not going to put any of these businesses out of business. We're not going to impact them enough to cause massive layoffs. We're not going to cause a domino effect collapse of the economy. But, if we continue to choose to succumb to the 5,000 plus consumerism marketing messages we're bombarded with every single day, we will be the ones who are bankrupted – financially, morally and even our health.

The Capitalistic system and economy is fantastic. It actually does give us so many choices. If we want to live a minimalist lifestyle and be happier and freer with less stuff weighing us down, we must learn what our real and actual NEEDS are. The we must put our blinders on and turn off the incessant, never ending babble that goes on 24/7 on the home shopping channels. Then we must carefully select the vendors, whether online or brick and mortar stores, become informed consumers and don't buy all the hype fed to you by another major industry of the Capitalistic system – marketing (and it's evil twin, advertising).

I'm not suggesting it's a sin to have some wants for a few luxuries or special items that just make you feel good. I'm not into sack cloth, ashes and eating rice and porridge in the pot nine days old. I'm saying a smart minimalist can live a very satisfying, fulfilling, free and happy lifestyle just by making good, informed decisions whether to consume or not to consume.

I am as bad as the next person. While I've generally been frugal and pragmatic throughout my lifetime, I was still a consumer. I ended up with way more than I ever really needed. That is a main reason why I'm still working at clearing out a rental storage unit – yep, I'm guilty.

Several years ago I started asking myself a simple question whenever I walked the aisles of Costco, Walmart, Kohls or perusing offerings from the numerous daily online feeds I receive. The question is: “Can I live without this?” I then put myself on a 30 day cooling off period for any item I was really drawn to. The result? I can honestly say 99.9% of everything I look at never becomes a possession of mine. It may become someone else's, but not mine.

One day in the future I might see one of these items in a flea market, yard sale, thrift store or on eBay at a fraction of the original cost. Maybe, and that's only a very slight maybe, I might be drawn to the item again. I ask the same question and repeat the process.

Buying stuff can be and often is an addiction, just like smoking, drinking alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. Break that (and any other unhealthy) addictions you have to live free and be happy. EH


Anonymous said...

Excellent article.
@short comment in regard of: I need it, heck NO ! I need them, heck NO!
Prescription drugs...UNFORTUNETLY yes, I need a statin for my elevated cholesterol, Atenolol for an elevated B/P & dialtazem for angina, it means, if I don't take them, I'll be dead meat, SO sometimes we have NO CHOICE than to become consumers to the pharmaceutical business.

Love your blog.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thanks! You see my point. We have choices. Put another way, we can choose our poisons. No one is immune. The the magic word is choices. we can choose any of the three (and a bazillion more) choices. Each has some kind of consequence. In the case of prescription drugs, you have a choice, but the one you have made is the right one for you and you're not abusing it. You're using is intelligently to maintain your health and prolong your life. The other two, well, there are no real lifesaving benefits to them and you choose to avoid consuming them. I would classify this as making intelligent, sound choices for your lifestyle. But, as you know. There are many people who abuse the life saving, life enhancing drugs. Once they cross that line, they are in no better a situation than abusing their bodies with alcohol or cigarettes. The line has been crossed. But, we're each blessed with "free will." How we exercise our free will can make all the difference in the world for quality of life.

I appreciate your compliment about the blog. It's my mission to make a small, positive contribution to our society.

Live free & be happy,

Matt Peacock said...

Really enjoyed this article and all of your articles. What an inspiration they (you) are.

Thanks again.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thank you for your kind words, Matt. I'm glad to know you gained from my words. That is why I write.

I looked at your blog and it is a real heart rending subject. I can see you have dealt with some real pain in your life. I have a (nearly) 39 year old son who is the Apple of my eye, but we spend most of our time a continent apart. Only because he chooses to live where he does and trek the world and I live on the road as a nomad most of my time and trek the US. But we both have a deep love and respect for one another. I hope your situation heals with your daughter.