We’ve maintained from the start that there is more to frugality than merely being cheap. Frugality is about deploying your resources wisely, to maximise your long-term happiness.
One thing that makes me happy is being satisfied about the ethical or moral consequences of my spending, so it’s worrying to read accounts of what happens behind the scenes to bring us truly cheap goods:
… in her lively and terrifying book “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture,” Ellen Ruppel Shell pulls back the shimmery, seductive curtain of low-priced goods to reveal their insidious hidden costs. Those all-you-can-eat Red Lobster shrimps may very well have come from massive shrimp-farming spreads in Thailand, where they’ve been plumped up with antibiotics and possibly tended by maltreated migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam. The made-in-China toy train you bought your kid a few Christmases ago may have been sprayed with lead paint — and the spraying itself may have been done by a child laborer, without the benefit of a protective mask.
from a review at Salon.
The book is also reviewed at Boingboing, with some really interesting debate in the comments.
Then there’s this view of so-called ethical consumption, in a review in spiked online of Neal Lawson’s All Consuming:
Ironically, even the most fashion-conscious teenager is less obsessed with consumption than today’s anti-consumerists. The learned professors, journalists and political lobbyists who study in detail the choices available to the public are a sorry sight.
Of course such self-appointed experts are not opposed to all forms of consumption. Although they despise the purchase of luxury items by the masses they are happy to indulge what they see as their own refined tastes. Indeed, the notion of ethical consumption is essentially a way of validating the shopping of the elite while deriding the masses at the same time.
From the elite’s perspective, consumption becomes what author James Heartfield calls ‘status affirmation’. The purchase of what are deemed to be ethically acceptable products is seen as marking individuals out from the rabble. So anyone who likes, say, ordinary chocolate biscuits is sneered at as a gullible consumer while those who eat overpriced organic Duchy Originals are viewed as cultured individuals.
from here. And there is something in that. It isn’t much of an advance to replace one sort of snobbery with another. But still, if one kind of snobbery is helpful to others while another isn’t, I’ll opt for the first over the second.
But what if we don’t buy new things at all? What if we only buy old things and reuse them, or recycle goods?
… salvage itself is a mechanism, both in practice and in thought, procedure and ideology, deeply ingrained in the circuits of late capitalism. And much further back than that.
From the total inanity of green “upcycled” goods (“ie. recycled/reclaimed into something special”, because “Ethical is Beautiful” and they insist on “only using laptops“) to wrenching fillings from your teeth to sell to Cash For Gold U.S.A. (for the oral hoarding days must come to an end in these lean times). From the total staggering obscenity of price mark-ups at trendy vintage clothing shops to desperate children rummaging through the stinking mountains of trash. These are apocalyptic times generally, but in particular, the figure and action of salvage looms perhaps largest.
from Putting the Punk back in Salvage, pointed out by Giovanni Tiso. Particular venom is reserved for vintage clothing, which hurts me.
Dear reader, you must decide what to do for yourself. If you have a coherent plan, please share.