by Pat Carl
Pre-virus, pre-social distancing, we – the consumers – were tempted to buy products we didn’t need and probably didn’t want. We were hooked on all the latest big-ticket items: devices, clothing, cars, boats, RVs. You name it. Advertising firms and their very clever employees tricked up tweets, instagrams, and memes with cartoonish characters to talk us into the latest phone, the latest computer, and the latest knock-off fashion.
Pre-virus, pre-social distancing, we – the consumers – did, in fact, consume well above what we could comfortably afford, not to mention well above what the planet could tolerate. In Canada alone, household debt was around 170 per cent of disposable income in 2018. In other words, the average Canadian owes about $1.70 for every dollar of income he or she earns per year, after taxes. A year and two months later, Canadian household debt to disposable income level came in at 177.6 per cent.
Once the virus took hold though, our need to protect our health and, for some of us, our lack of income, actually changed our purchasing. No longer did we purchase big-ticket items like the latest iPhone or Dodge Ram; instead, we bought grocery items – cleaning and household products, and shelf-stable foods – in other words, survival goods. In fact, between March 11, 2020 and March 14, 2020, grocery retail sales increased 38% in Canada.
Now, I’ll bet that post-social distancing, we’ll see all types of slick corporate appeals and even red and white patriotic slogans produced by both the Canadian provincial and federal governments encouraging consumers to kick-start the economy. On April 29, BC Primer John Horgan said, “In order for us to fully recover, we have to get consumers spending again.” And so, it begins.
Buy-buy-buy. Don’t worry about debt. Just get out your credit card and join other consumers in a spend-spend-spend frenzy. Corporations and the government aren’t talking groceries this time around.
Just look at the inside cover ad of the print version of May’s National Geographic, a stalwart supporter of environmental sanity BTW. It shows four very attractive millennials in dark clothing posed in front of a dark curtain – a very sophisticated anti-boho depiction – all to encourage real-life millennials to purchase a Lexus. To keep everyone up to speed, a 2020 Lexus costs between $47, 300 and $54, 700 (USD). No chump-change, that.
But what if we refused to participate? What if we refused to belly up to the bar? What if we didn’t play the consumer game?
What if we embraced what goodness has come about because of self-isolation?
What if we continue to fix and eat our meals at home with our families? What if we take walks each day with our partners and find new paths to explore? What if we take children outside when they get the most antsy so they can learn to steer their bikes properly, as one “daddy” does in my neighbourhood, patiently re-routing his little girl’s training wheel-equipped bike from the yard that she’s off-roaded onto from the sidewalk?
Playing the consumer game is nothing compared to synchronizing our lives to a new tune post-virus. I say let’s put away our wallets and embrace the song of our souls. That’d be a real grassroots movement.