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Quit Window Shopping

Let me sketch a scene out for you:

Bordem has struck your heart. Perhaps you are enjoying the company of your friends, maybe it’s a Tuesday and don’t have work or school.  The air conditioner is set at a cool setting of 6, the sun sits high in the sky as you look out the window.  You’ve had enough of binge watching The Office, you want to seize the day, you want to do something.  Something, anything.

You grab your keys, you get in the car and set your compass to the mall.

It passes as an activity, after all you have to put on clothes to do it. You park in parking lot which is essentially a large tarmac for the all the consumers.  You feel as if this place is now the new public square.  You shuffle through the large parking lot and open the glass doors, the blast of cool air welcomes you to the mall.

You start to walk around, you walk to your litany of stores and you spy signs, advertisements, stuff to influence you.

You go to Trendy Planet and do a couple laps.

Oh wowzers these shoes are like $15 off, I’d be clinically brain dead if I did not buy these!”. 

Now you’re walking around Trendy planet with shoes in your hand and a few cool minutes later you are now an ambivalent owner of Kevin O’Leary brand running shoes.

Window shopping is one of the biggest conduits of unplanned buying.  One of the simplest ways to cut down on unplanned purchases is just simply not being in that situation where you can buy stuff. The next time you are bored, go for a walk instead, geocache, or visit a friend you haven’t seen in awhile.

 

Amazon Dash: The New Epoch of Consumerism

Amazon Dash

When you buy an Amazon Dash, you buy a specific brand, e.g., you can buy a Tide button or a hundred different other brands.  When you press the button the button automatically places an order for the corresponding brand.  So when you come to the dread and anxiety faced when you realize you are out of some K-cups, you can press the button and the Dash orders more K-Cups by connecting to your smart phone through your home WIFI and places orders in the Amazon app.   This button serves nothing more than a shortcut, by cutting out the tedium of pulling out your smart phone and pressing a few different prompts and digital buttons to order new items.

Amazon has been quiet on if these buttons are subsidized by the brands that adorn their plastic facades, but it makes sense.  Not only do these buttons serve as free advertisement in your home, they also dampen choice.  If you have a dedicated button for Nature Valley, chances are you are not interested in seeking out alternatives.   Brands like this button because they foster customer loyalty.

The mixed news is, this is still largely an experiment.  Analyst suggest that the users most interested in this are prime members who do most of their grocery shopping online, which only amounts to 15 percent of Prime members.   Consumer intelligence suggest there are 54 million Prime members in the US, which means we have around 8 million members that use the grocery service frequently.  We can assume then, that there are less than 8 million Amazon Dash members.   But, marketers and Amazon will be sure to figure out more ways to make us into infantilized consumers, too inept to go to the store or even open a web browser to order bottled water.

 

Amazon Dash Button Tide

 

When the Dash was announced last year, it was just before April 1st, the international day of the internet prankster. Many thought that this was an April Fool’s prank, but alas, it was not.   The Dash market is growing, it currently has a little over a hundred brands to choose from.

The Dash embodies the worst qualities of the modern consumer, it fosters unprecedented laziness, while simultaneously seceding any semblance of consumer control.  While shopping can be a chore, we are endowed with a myriad of digital tools to help organize shopping trips and we can ultimately order things from the confine of our computers.  Second, as I already mentioned, this device basically incentivizes you to double down on a brand.  Everyone hates when the government does no-bid contracts, don’t be an inept bureaucrat and always make sure you consider alternatives.

Letting Go, The Storage Unit Gambit

Last fall I crossed off a long held goal of clearing out my storage locker.

It took some wrangling to get it done, a consortium of friends and family, a situation to where I ended up with more days off than usual, and the proper logistics in place.  But it’s done.

A series of events left me with a storage locker filled with my wordily possessions and I lived without them for over a year.  I paid them $130 a month for the privilege of parking my stuff there.  Insane I know, and it was also the cheapest place in town.  My storage locker will filled with my stuff, everything, furniture, my decrepit coffee maker that I never used, end tables, a collection of junk. It made no sense to keep it, considering I could replace everything with a couple months worth of rent.

I ended up moving and had to leave my storage unit,  6 hours away.  Too far to causally withdraw things.  It started bugging me, there were a few things I needed at my new digs, but most of it I didn’t need.  Once I started cleaning it up, I even realized that there was stuff that I had forgot about it.

What did I do with most of my stuff?  If it didn’t fit, it didn’t ship, I donated most of it.  Donating a mattress is tricky, because everyone is concerned about bed bugs.  What I could fit in the car went to my new temporary digs.  No more $130 monthly rent, no more stuff that made no sense to keep.

This was a nice lesson from minimalism.  This stuff was just there sitting and waiting and now I don’t have that burden anymore and it feels good.

 

 

Used Books are the Best

Ever stroll into a new book store?  Ever read the prices on these things? Thomas Piketty’s Capital is like $40, most paperbacks are like $20-30.   Hey, I get it, publishing cost money, paper cost money, distribution, the authors’s time, whatever, it all costs money.  But forget it, used books let you sidestep all that.

In some circles, buying used things is the ultimate confession to being poor.  To be avoided at all cost.  Other circles don’t really care if it’s used or not, perhaps they just care that it is in working order. Books shouldn’t carry that baggage though, this isn’t about a mustard stained T-shirt from the thrift shop, it’s about the ideas that books convey.

Used books are cheap: Used books in thrift shops often suffer from a lack of variety, but enough trawling and you can usually build up a robust library.  Hell, where do you think I get all the books I review on this site?  If you are looking for a very specific title, then it may be hard to get what you’re looking for.  Actual used book stores, are more expensive than the couple dollar affair down at most thrift shops, but, they typically offer more variety.

Used books are often in good shape, but not all the time.  But if you’re paying $1.00 for a book that retailed $30, I don’t mind some creases.  Some people might find marginalia as offensive, I think it actually adds to the reading experience.  It means that someone before you, in this very book took the time to read it and add their thoughts to it.  I have a hard time reading a book without a pen or pencil in my hand to add my thoughts.

I was reading an introductory book to personal finance, I remember the first chapter had highlighted sentences.  But it was only the first chapter, I kept thinking about how a middle aged person probably bought this book, read the first chapter, put it on the night stand for a couple months.  It eventfully made it to the bookshelf and then to the donation box.  Then it went to me, I finished what they couldn’t.

In short, used books are one of the greatest items for the thrift shopper.

 

Why Anti-Consumption?

Anti-consumption is often misunderstood, often taken by some to mean some sort of life trapped in a cabin in some remote mountain, guarded by leagues of pines, concealing your fate to a remote corner of the world.  In fact there are some good reasons to jail the Visa, serve a pink slip to the mall and quit drinking wheatgrass.

1) Money

Money, money, money. The oxygen of our society, the oil of our culture.  Money binds us and keeps things going. It keeps some crawling over a desert of broken glass to obtain it. The absence of it has turned some into emaciated dogs, starved of the simplest material pleasures.Realistically, any stab at having a normal life requires keeping the lines filled with some money.  Money is the electrical pulse that keeps modern life ticking and we have a ridiculous amount of ways to blow our money.  The fundamental problem that confronts us, we are beings with many wants (or unlimited, according to orthodox economics) with a very finite amount of resources.

Atop our prism of self-control, many spill their bags of coin on the short term.  Short term gratification versus long term gratification, is the paradigm that helps explain why some are so recklessly careless with money.  Some of course will say, “you can’t take it with you”.  That’s true, you can’t take money to the great “beyond” (or great nothingness), but for many who do make it to old age, there is one day where you cannot work anymore.  One day your bones will grow old, your ability to sense oncoming storms will be greatly improved.  Walking around will become an arduous chore, a harrowing adventure.  All of sudden clocking in 8 hours at the dirt factory will be a hellish experience, befit to the damned.  Anti-consumerism, anti-consumption, frugality, all help you control the cash injector valve.   There is probably a hundred trillion ways to better spend money than buying some bull shit.  A place to live, a vehicle maybe, freedom from work, retirement.   Anti-consumption allows you to appreciate the value of not endlessly consuming, the positive externality is that your wallet potentially is flush with money that would’ve been spent otherwise.

 

2) Happiness

Happiness™, it’s what we’re after right?   It’s a business unto itself.   Some have become personal tyrants, rampant consumption, constant consumption to keep the negative feelings away.  Like a heroin addict looking for one more hit, consumption hits off the dopamine.  The life of the consumer, one where the consumer is obsessed with the endless pursuit of buying things will not increase happiness.

Anti-consumption allows people to cast off the unnecessary impulse of constantly buying stuff and lets you focus more on things that make people happy, relationships, community, and self-improvement.

 

3) Minimalism

Focus less on materialism, focus less on acquiring things, a minimalist life is one about having less.  Things get simpler with less things, like a computer trying to render complex scenery, the less items, the easier it is to do so.  Things are cognitively taxing.   More things don’t equate to happiness. You probably know someone who has to have the newest toys, appliances, or whatever.  The endless pursuit of acquiring goods is tantamount to rolling a boulder up a hill, just to see it roll back down.

4) Responsible Ownership

Anti-consumption, isn’t necessarily anti-stuff.  I think many in the anti-consumption crowd would advocate for people to be better informed about the stuff they already have or seek to have.  Anti-consumption means, better knowledge about what they have, how to fix it (if possible), and ultimately take better care of what you have.  For most things, it’s a smart idea to buy something that lasts for a long time rather than re-buying it 20 times.  Although, I’ll add as an aside that the BIFL (buy it for life) crowd isn’t a perfect paragon of anti-consumption virtue (more on that in an upcoming article).

5) Environmental

Notice, my first four points are focused to you the individual, but there are ways that consuming less is better for all.   Our way of living is focused on the short term.  Corporations live and die by the quarterly earnings, meaning that  there aren’t many incentives to think long  that’s not to say that corporations never focus on the long term, but they always have incentives for the easy route.  We know that rampant production has caused grievous environmental harm, with so many examples it is difficult to know where to start.  For instance, mining for electronic elements is extremely toxic for communities that have to suffer it.  China, where much of global production is occurring, is largely powered by coal power, coal is one of the largest contributors of carbon.  Unless you’re the Heritage Foundation, the rest of us in the real world know that climate change is a pressing challenge and our way of life will be challenged at some point.

6) Ethical consideration for labour

The sweat shop paradox.  Sweat shops have enabled disenfranchised people to have some very limited economic prosperity.  While many might just shrug their shoulders They would be worse off without the sweat shops, there are many who think their predicaments are a travesty of justice.  Some embrace anti-consumption as a way of protesting treatment of labour in the global south.   Some with anti-consumption mindset might take to buying more ethical commodities.

Book Review: Consumed

Consumed – How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole, Benjamin R. Barber, W.W. Norton, 2007, 406 pg
Consumed by Benjamin BarberBenjamin Barber’s sortie against consumerism is sure to reverberate from the glass tower offices of big box USA to the indolent consumer buying pre-peeled oranges (a real example of infantilization of society).

As way of general review, Barber’s main avenue of assault is by drive by shooting.  Barber has a lengthy list of target and what he does is drive up, unloads his quick assault and then drives off to the next target, in other words, Barber’s pages are packed dense with many ideas and examples, but often he only spends a few sentences discussing them.  His writing sometimes feels like being in a swamp, a humid, slow trotting affair, that takes time to get through.  Other times Barber writing is lucid and reads like a car drives over fresh highway.   In other words: Barber writes like a political theorist, fitting because he is a political scientist by trade.  Barber divided his book into three sections: The Birth of consumers, the eclipse of citizens and the fate of citizens.

Barber’s main theme is fighting against the hyper-consumption in our contemporary era .  Consumerism, according to Barber is the latest stage of capitalism, one where needs are no longer met by producers but our needs are being produced by producers.  Advertising and marketing serve to enhance our wants, thus, producers can produce more.  The greatest threat to producers, is not over-producing, but people not buying enough. An ad in 1926 from Life magazine had the header “GO AHEAD AND MAKE US WANT” (pg.291), which shows us the early recognition of advertising in society.  This is the spine of his argument, to which Barber navigates various aspects of the rise of consumerism, the pass-over of the Protestant ethos to an infantilized ethos, the ascent of markets and the supremacy of the private, then Barber closes with some words on what can be done about this consumer melancholy.

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Tragedy of the Commons: A Horror Movie

I was writing about the tragedy of the commons in another article and I chuckled at the idea of picturing it as a horror movie.  So I opened up the ye’ olde photoshop and made quick movie poster! SPOOOOOKY! Too bad it wasn’t Halloween.

And, if you don’t know what the tragedy of the commons is, here’s quick definition: Tragedy of the commons is a metaphor to explain shared public resources.  In the original thought, imagine a commons shared by farmers.  One farmer can increase profits by increasing his usage of the commons, up until the commons gets so degraded that it drags down the offerings for everyone.  Today, the idea is used in thinking about fishing stock, public parks, etc.

Tragedy of the commons