Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mother Nature doesn't do bailouts

Thomas Friedman put into words in Sunday's NYT exactly what I've been mulling over for about 6 months now.  Basically this:

Our economy is in large part based upon stuff we don't need. Entire industries are floating on the fact that we are obsessive over-consumers. A different pair of sneakers for walking, hanging out, hiking, cross-training, etc. Baby-wipe warmers (saw that one at a baby shower today). Wine tags so you don't drink the wrong glass of wine at a party (I mean, it's not like I have cooties, geez).  

Basically, the way you can draw money out of the system, provide for you family, etc., is to come up with something no one else has thought of, and market it to the point where no one would consider living without it. Hiking up a mountain in walking shoes? (no traction!  no balance! no ankle support! no way!) And so we buy our 4 pairs of specialized sneakers.  We know deep down that young women in China are getting paid next to nothing to make them. 90% of goods in Walmart are made in China. 90%! It's a buzz-kill to talk about but it's the truth.

I'm reading Omnivore's Dilemma right now.  The author spends a great amount of time on corn - just how pervasive it is in the American diet.  Food companies have twisted and mixed and chemically altered corn into pretty much everything we eat.  Marketers sit around and try to come up with new products made from corn all the time - breakfast cereals, chicken nuggets, energy drinks, you name it.  Why do they do this?  Because corn is what we have.  It's cheap (though nutritionally vapid) and it grows like wildfire in this country.  So even though our diet certainly could do without high-fructose corn syrup (1 in 5 Americans being obese and all), that's what we get.  It's not what's good for us, it's what's good for shareholders in General Mills. Hmmm....bad for our health, good for the market, that's a poignant dichotomy.

Which takes us back to this economy. Friedman says "the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: 'No more.'"

I don't think it was in anyone's plans to have half the world working for a pittance just so the industrialized West would be able to afford 4 pairs of $60 sneakers per person.  We refuse to work for less than $10/hour, yet we won't pay more than a dollar or so for the labor of making those sneakers (most of that ticket price going to marketing). It's an unequal equation. Someone takes the hit. I think we'd all be happy to pay $200 a pair if we knew that the girl making them could afford a pair too. But we weren't asked to make that sacrifice, and so we'll just avert our eyes. Perhaps that's the underlying picture behind this economic chaos.  We've all been living like mini-Madoffs, knowing we were getting wealthy (and tons of cheap stuff) off the backs of others.  Maybe this is mother nature's way of righting the balance.


aviva5271 said...

but what about ethanol? isn't THAT going to solve everything?

poignant dichotomy. i like that. i'm going to use that.

well written post, Jen. And Friedman - he's my Jewish soul mate. Friedman and Stewart.

Sumeba Miyako said...

thats, Viv. I read somewhere that ethanol uses more fossil fuel than it helps to supplant.

Jon Stewart is my Jewish soulmate. hands off.

dancing doc design said...

Well said! I believe you may be correct about the intense imbalances of resources,lifestyles and education,too, I would say! The house of cards was going to fall and force a change upon us all! Have a great day!