Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Postconsumerism 2

What kind of tipping point will 2008 be?

With the seismic shifts of the credit crunch and escalating oil prices hitting us just as public concerns for the environment reach an all time high, 2008 is beginning to be seen as a crunch year heralding in fundamental social changes. I was wondering if 2008 will have anything in common with earlier tipping point years and what we should do in response.

Will 2008 be 1929 again? The Wall Street crash was the most devastating economic crisis in the history of the US, triggering the Great Depression, mass unemployment and a decade of decline across the world’s industrial nations. If this is what we’re in for get your cash out of the banks before they collapse.

Will 2008 be ’45 again? Britain came out the war on the winning side but skint. A decade of austerity followed. People grew their food, made do with what they had and wasted nothing. We came out of it with the Welfare State. Get your name down for an allotment.

Will 2008 be ’73 again? The OPEC oil crisis led to increasing price of petrol and the (temporary) end of the big American car. In Britain, escalating cost of living intensified industrial strife over the following decade. Power cuts, strikes and 3 day weeks defined the 70’s. Buy some candles.

Will 2008 be ’98 again? For months the media whipped up fears of a recession but it turned out to be a storm in a tea cup. The economy kept going and was ultimately buoyed by the dotcom boom. Stop reading the papers.

Or will 2008 be nothing like any of the above yet just a little like all of them? People trade down to more eco-friendly cars not only for environmental reasons but because petrol is just too expensive; people start growing their own food because food prices skyrocket; people stop betting everything on the housing market because the banks can’t afford to give anyone a mortgage so there is little growth in value; and then the banks start offering better saving rates because they need to raise capital and so people achieve a healthy level of personal savings.

OK, making forecasts like this is just asking for it but here’s one that seems likely: the big cultural debate of the next decade will be between the advocates of sustainable living in the broadest sense and those who still encourage conspicuous consumption.




Anonymous said...

I think you're probably right about it being consumerism vs sustainability. But I think the important places to watch are China and India. It's how they handle the oncoming crisis which will be important not what us relatively well-off developed nations think. It's how they choose to develop industry, housing and consumerism which will dictate the world's future. Look to the East - a new industrial revolution is coming. And it will affect us all.

Anonymous said...

I've just read that the Co-op have bought Somerfield for £1.57bn - I hope they know what they're letting themselves in for when we all start growing our own fruit and veg.

Anonymous said...

I was watching TV the other night and saw a loan ad from Lloyds TSB. They were actually encouraging people to borrow money to go on holiday - Excuse me?! In the current climate is that really what they should be out there talking how - how incredibly cynical. Yes of course, the banks need to keep earning money from loans - more than ever, in some ways I suppose. But surely what they should be doing, outwardly, is encouraging people to be more responsible and save (another, let's say safer revenue stream for them) - surely the ease at which people borrow to go on holiday etc (as opposed to saving up) is reflective of the profligacy that has got us into the mess we're in. Back to the ad, if Barclays were going out with this advertising, I probably wouldn't be annoyed as I'd expect it from them, but only a few weeks ago the Lloyds TSB marketing director was saying how his brand is the "responsible grown up voice - that understands the situation its customers are in". Really? is that why you are trying to get them more into debt?

This points to the huge challenge that faces us. What we really need to be doing is reassessing our lives - realising that we have been living frivolously and wastefully for the last couple of decades and we need to start taking responsibility again and living within our means. Unfortunately, extravagance, and living outside of our means, has become so ingrained in our behaviour, and brands are still all to happy to encourage to this and make money from it, that one wonders if we can turn ourselves around. One wonders just how bad it needs to get, before people wisen up, and before brands start re-evaluating how they earn money from us.