Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The too much and too fast of today's economy

The more I think about it, the more unnerving it seems to me just how much we rely on foreign, primarily Chinese technology and manufacturing these days, for just about anything - our clothes, electronic devices, household products, toys, all sorts of equipment. Even our food comes from afar. When I first saw Spanish and Italian olive oils in the stores, I was surprised - why should we import olive oil when Israel is full of olive trees? But it turns out, even with the cost of shipping, that the foreign oils are often cheaper. It's hard when you're torn between the desire to buy local and the need to lower your grocery store bill. 

Things used to be different. We used to produce more of our own food, clothes, household tools, etc. Much of it is now imported. Experts say it makes sense economically, but I'm not sure it makes sense from the point of long-term strategy, community ties, and the environment. 

Things used to be of better quality, too. Clothes, toys and equipment were made sturdier, for longer-lasting use. When I look over some clothes that were made before I was even born, I marvel at the quality of the fabric and the seams. Even the colors didn't fade with time. Now half the things we buy at such a fabulously cheap price break down the next day, so we can go on and buy more. The discarded items then pour into our landfills. 

Obviously we can't go back to the days when we all lived on isolated farms where we baked the bread from the wheat we'd grown, drank the beer we brewed, and wore the clothes from the wool we've spun, which came from the sheep we'd sheared. But our current economy seems so impersonal and wasteful it literally gives me the creeps. 

Still, I sometimes think - what if we wake up tomorrow to a reality that makes foreign import no longer possible, or at least not possible to the extent we are used to today? I don't know - a massive civil war in China, perhaps? Obviously we would have to make adjustments, but what if the change is so abrupt our economy can't handle it?

Here is a very interesting (pretty long, but worth the effort of reading) article on over-consumption.  It was written nearly 20 years ago, before the age of massive instant internet shopping, but it's amazing how so much of it as relevant as ever. For example the following quote:

"MANY of us who attended college in the 1960s and 1970s took pride in how little we owned. We celebrated our freedom when we could fit all our possessions -- mostly a stereo -- into the back of a Beetle. Decades later, middle-aged and middle-class, many of us have accumulated an appalling amount of stuff. Piled high with gas grills, lawn mowers, excess furniture, bicycles, children's toys, garden implements, lumber, cinder blocks, ladders, lawn and leaf bags stuffed with memorabilia, and boxes yet to be unpacked from the last move, the two-car garages beside our suburban homes are too full to accommodate the family minivan. The quantity of resources, particularly energy, we waste and the quantity of trash we throw away (recycling somewhat eases our conscience) add to our consternation."

I grew up in an apartment of 56 square meters (about 600 square feet). We had no storage shed, no garage, no balcony. The 56 square meters were all the space we had available for living and storage. Nevertheless, when we moved and I sorted through my stuff, I was amazed at the bags upon bags of junk that came out of my little room. How did I ever accumulate all that clutter?

Today, scrounging through our closets, drawers, storage shed, kitchen cupboards, etc, I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff that somehow sneaks in. Certainly we could live very well without most of it - and with less items to shift, rearrange, dust, organize, pack and re-pack every time we move. 

What I really want is a simple, harmonious home that holds all the essentials and the comforts of family life, but isn't overflowing with stuff. Such a home would be easy to maintain and enable us to live a peaceful, satisfying life in harmony with nature. Getting rid of excessive possessions is just a detail. The big picture is longing for what you can grow, or make, or find, rather than what you can buy. 

We try to do our bit by supporting, as much as we can, local Jewish farmers who grow very high-quality food. We also took to buying second-hand. It isn't just about saving money; when I buy second-hand, I'm not contributing to over-consumption and over-production, because I'm using something someone already bought. If I don't take it, it will go to the landfill. 

I really feel it's such an amazing privilege G-d has given us, that of living in Israel and seeing the rolling hills of the Shomron out of my window every day. We love this land, and hope to do our bit towards keeping it as beautiful as it is today. 



Dear Anna,

Just a couple of quick thoughts. I don't think the past was that simple, especially after researching the pre-industrial era. Rural life may seem idyllic to us, but the reality was often harsh and cruel. Children died from disease and ill hygiene. People worked and got by with so little, sometimes going for days without food to eat. Even Laura Ingalls, whose books make every one of us love the "good old days", suffered for the first four years of her marriage with disease and failed harvests.

Self-sufficient they may have been, but their life was pure drudgery, toiling from dawn to dusk without education or recreation. Abuse, alcoholism, and many other vices plagued the working classes, whilst the upper classes owned a lot of land (ie. the fugal system) and lived in luxury. I mean, what they did was amazing and natural, but I don't think the farmhands who ploughed and sickled by hand, enduring blisters,and the women who spent hours lighting fires and scrubbing clothes by hand really appreciated the simplicity of their way of life, haha. People died earlier too!


Mrs. G said...

Thank you for this thought provoking post. I agree that we can't return to the past (and probably wouldn't want to) but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive to recapture the aspects of that life that would enrich ours. The biggest thing I think we've lost is community, the global economy has made us strangers to each other. Thanks again for what you write.

Mrs. G

Winkel's Crazy Ideas said...

I do not believe that days-gone-by were perfect and superior in every way, however, I do believe that we have lost important things along the way. My aim for living a simpler life is to seek to combine the best of past and present and ditch meaningless consumerism. Pam

Mrs. Anna T said...

Beka, thank you for your thoughts I am by no means idealizing the past, nor would I give up on technology; on the contrary, I believe modern technology, in particular solar panels, electric water pumps, composting toilets, milking machines, and more, is what makes the modern one-family homestead/farm possible to keep while maintaining a good quality of life with some time left for rest and recreation. I hope to expand on this subject in a separate post.

Lady Anne said...

I'm 73. My grandparents lived through two World Wars and a devastating Depression. As a consequence, I grew up with a family of hoarders, and still do a lot of the things my mum, in particular did. Saving clothing that no longer fits or is out of fashion, thinking I can diet my way back into it, or make my daughters (or great-grandkids, now) a dress or shirt from the fabric. And there's always quilts or braided rugs you could make...

My clothes were made from feed sacks, and my grandmother used to save the string with which the bags were sewn together so she could crochet her own dishcloths. I don't even know how to crochet, and I still unconsciously wind the string from dog food bags into nice, tidy balls.

We passed clothing along. I was the oldest of ten grandchildren. My clothing went to my cousin, and then came back to my sister, who was five years younger. From there it went to another girl in the family, and finally, my own daughters wore things that had been mine. Today, as you said, things don't last; seams give out, elbows wear through, and people refuse to put their children into hand-me-downs.

I don't know about you, but my downfall is paper - books, newspapers from special occasions, photos, etc. I am physically incapable of tossing any printed material, beyond recycling the newspapers. Magazines go to various waiting rooms, books go on Freecycle, and we are finally, finally, getting a grip on the photos, simply by scanning them into the computer.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Lady Anne, thank you for sharing your experience - I haven't even heard of some of the practices you mention, like crocheting your own dishcloths. I wouldn't choose to be driven by hardship, but it's still fascinating to know how people used to cope. My Grandmother, while in exile in Siberia, worked as a knitter - people would bring her old cardigans, etc, and she'd unwind the thread and make new things out of them.