Sunday 25 January 2009

Spending our way out of trouble

Heavy borrowing to allow us to 'spend our way out of trouble' has been widely slammed, click here, here and here for example. And I agree it is short-sighted, short term and quite possibly panicked thinking onthe part of the government to cut taxes and borrow more to encourage the public to go on doing the very thing that got us into a mess inthe first place.

If we do not spend money we cause the closure of businesses and job losses, which triggers unemployment and all the anxieties that go with it. In the long run therefore we do need to spend our way out of trouble, it is just what we spend it on that we should be thinking about. If I'm an educator and you spend money to learn something from me, I will (assuming other people want my services too) have an income which I can spend on my rent, my food, my family and my own hobbies. I would, for example, like to spend some money French lessons. For a sustainable economy to exist and thrive we will need people to spend money on each other's ecologically sustainable goods and services. An economic downturn is useful in that it puts outdated and inefficient companies out of business, do we really need Woolworths? When the penny pinches people stop spending money on things they don't really need, people can live without plastic toys (for children and adults), penny sweets, chart CDs and bargain bin DVDs.

Talk of spending our way out of trouble is fine when we are sensible about what we spend our money (and time) on. NEF have a report titled 'Five ways to wellbeing'. Can we build an economy that is not too environmentally demanding and wasteful from these five ways to wellbeing? Here they are:

'Connect... with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.'

'Be active.... Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance.'

'Take notice... Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual...savour the moment.'

'Keep Learning... Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course.'

'Give... Do something nice for a friend or stranger. Thanks someone. Smile. Volunteer your time.''
My answer: With a bit of planning - Yes. But, we do need to be wary that companies have been selling people highly energy dependent, highly wasteful goods and services that are either paraphernalia for these activities or pseudo-satisfiers. Mobile phones have constantly been sold as ways to connect with friends and family, when in reality they provide a weak and expensive substitute and/or excuse for real connection and contact.

Providing opportunities and genuine, authentic ways for people to experience these five ways to wellbeing while also experiencing them oneself would be (and for many already is) a full time occupation. We have machines now to meet our basic material needs very easily, the robotic element of a utopian dream is in place, we do not need to employ millions of people in food production, manufacturing and construction, we need to employ people as facilitators and generators of wellbeing. If we are to spend our way out of trouble perhaps we should be spending it on the things that genuinely bring us emotional and physical wellbeing, using our talents to help others and ourselves to make a living.

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