26 October 2021

Yet Another Reason to Lay off Shopping

Americans have been shopping to an unprecendented extent, and that's backing up ports and supply chains over and above anything else going on. 

But hang on, which Americans? The wealthiest 20 percent, of course. People whose income barely covered the basics before the Covid disruptions are also the hardest hit by losing income as a result of illness, job loss, and let's face it, deaths in their families.

A ship bigger than the Empire State Building docked in New York City a few months ago

For my part, I've been buying more books than usual, and they're arriving more slowly than they used to. I can live with that. 

I made the commitment in September of 2019 to stop buying new clothing, and with exceptions like socks, shoes and underwear, I've been doing a fairly decent job of sticking with it. I really should start counting non-thrifted purchases to keep myself honest. I buy most of my clothing from thrift stores, including the online giant ThredUP.

Recently, I mail-ordered a few items, and they took weeks longer to arrive than I expected based on pre-Covid norms. 

But the Atlantic points out that all these back-ups are also putting pressure on the hardest-hit Americans, maybe a quarter or half of us scraping by on not much more than minimum wage, lacking in health insurance, often food insecure.

It's those families, and their kids, that are missing out on school lunches and having trouble getting their hands on needed medications. 

And whose stuff gets shipped faster depends on who can pay more for shipping. It becomes a self-fulfilling loop. Amanda Mull writes:

Over time, it's [shopping has] become an expression of personal identity, a form of entertainment, and a way in which some believe they can effectively participate in politics—people rush to buy from or boycott companies on the basis of their public stances on social issues, and brands have begun to run extensive get-out-the-vote campaigns among their customers.

Reading that article this morning made me think about how many things I buy, and how many of them I don't, in fact, need. Need in the sense of basics: food, shelter, enough clothing to keep warm and comfortable (but not necessarily look extra sharp at work).

Meanwhile, we are learning that recycling isn't the solution. Water bottles can be pretty readily recycled, but there are dozens of different kinds of plastic, and 90 percent of it ends up in the trash. Plastic can't actually be recycled; it can only be "downcycled" into increasingly less reusable materials.

Fast fashion -- cheap clothing that's only worn a few times, is "destroying the planet," according to the not very environmentally forward-thinking New York Times

Amanda Mull's article in the Atlantic made me stop and think again, and re-commit myself to buying less stuff. Just ... everywhere. All the time. Probably even books.

How about you?