Positive Austerity

Riding on the road today, I was sure there were fewer vehicles around than there would have been once. I know it was was just a nothing special Wednesday morning, but I’ve ridden on plenty of similar mornings before and I’m sure they used to be busier – the run of the mill daytime traffic.

From a cyclist’s point of view I’m not complaining. For what it might signify for the economy I’m not so happy. I’d also say my horse-index* is still showing a downward trend.

I suppose it’s not surprising if it is true: the price of petrol is stupidly high, inflation’s growing, uncertainty is rife and just today the unemployment figures showed yet another rise. If we’re all less sure than we used to be about the future being generally good, then of course we’re all going to cut out the unnecessary spending. And there’s been a terrific amount of that. If you look at what’s being sold with anything like a dispassionate eye, then it’s starkly clear that the vast bulk of it is a long way from being anything like necessary or essential.

It sounds glib, but buying stuff doesn’t equate to buying happiness either. It’s a difficult one: I mean, good grief, I have a lot of stuff. But I like to think that at least the majority has been bought for a purpose – books, music, bikes even; I’d say they all are enabling products. Have a need then find a product to fill it. In contrast, it seems an awful lot of products are made and then a need has to be created to make people buy them. There was a tragic UN report published today about how kids in Britain are the most consumerist and the most unhappy; that they ‘have’ to have the ‘right’ stuff or else they’ll get bullied, but having the right stuff doesn’t bring them happiness. If that’s not grim reading I don’t know what is.

So, maybe you can posit a silver lining in austerity. Maybe being forced to buy less will lead to some re-evaluation and some good will come out of that. Maybe.

The trouble is, there are an awful lot of people making a living out of the selling of stuff. The same is true of the consequences of a declining horse-index: fewer horses means fewer jobs looking after them, one way or another. It’s all very well to think that fewer animals being kept for leisure may be no big deal, but the knock-ons might well be.

It’s difficult to imagine what will fill the resulting void in the job market if we all end up buying less stuff. A degree of austerity is one thing; abject poverty is another. If you look ahead far enough, it’s not hard to see that the really huge underlying problem that’s looming – on so many different fronts – is that there are too many people.

* The Horse Index