A movement seems to have taken off, in the United States and in some European countries, and no one knows whether its momentum will dwindle after the initial take-off, or if it will continue to ascend, far up and away: the movement proposes to take a simple decision: do not buy anything, except for bare necessities, for a year, in order to participate in the fight against global warming, sea pollution and waste of raw materials.
At first sight, the idea of such a consumer strike, which had already been proposed a long time ago, may seem ridiculous: no one can go without food, adequate shelter, clothes and medical treatment. Further, no one can go without learning and having access to transportation in order to go to work. The supporters of this movement may rebut and answer “of course” they can; for them the consumer strike concerns only superfluous things, and often these are things that we already own and only seek to renew. In fact, supporter of the strike go on to ask, couldn’t we pass on buying, for at least a year, new clothes, a change of car, a phone, a TV, a computer, and so many other things?
In contrast, those who oppose the strike believe it is obscene: the vast majority of people cruelly miss those things we want to deprive them of enjoyment. Further, they argue that very few people are able to live with what they already have, and the immense majority of the inhabitants of this planet count every dollar, euro or other monetary unit, to finish their month. Hence, how could one ask them to deprive themselves voluntarily of what they cannot even hope to have one day?
Very well then, the supporters of this strike rebut, let’s limit the strike to those who already have enough goods to not have a real need to replace them. After all, in the United States, in France, and in many developed countries, a significant proportion of the population have enough goods to be able to do without any vital purchase for a year. Among the vital goods: food, transportation, housing fees and children’s clothing. This leaves, for those who own their home, a more or less significant share of their income to be saved after paying for taxes, social security, insurance and other forms of insurance.
First, at the beginning of this year, it would be interesting for each of us to make a sincere evaluation of how much of our income could be saved if we decided not to buy anything that was going to replace or supplement something that we already possess; and then postponing these non-urgent purchases to 2019.
The first consequences for society of such a consumer strike would be, at first glance, attractive: less pressure to follow trends, less waste, less rubbish, less greenhouse gases; a more frugal and serene society. And then, very quickly, the less pleasant consequences would come: many strata of industry would be gradually jeopardized: the automotive industry; those of household and electronic goods; clothing, shoes, furniture, jewelry, luxury items of all kinds; and even those of books, films, musical works, in their physical or electronic forms. As a repercussion, millions of jobs would be at risk, especially among the households that would precisely not have the means to participate in this consumer strike in the first
place. Consequently, the strike, which a priori appeared so attractive, would in fact be very naive.
Nevertheless, we must get out of this infernal spiral of consumerism and initiate a shift in production and consumption. And instead of talking about a consumer strike, it would be wiser to talk about a “positive consumption,” which would redirect the purchases of those who can afford these items to durable goods as quickly as possible, without yielding to the trends, renouncing the urge for just the new and shiny. And instead, we should opt to make ourselves new items by refurbishing what we already own.
Many industries should rethink their production, which would also become positive.
And in order to expand the number of those who can participate, reducing inequality should be prioritized and would be the best way to accomplish this.
Rather than mediocre controversies that are damaging the public debate right now, this is a subject that deserves more dialogue and debate…
So when do we start?