Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Politics of Thrift


There is a bias against thrift. To some it means impoverishment, stinginess, poor quality, or low status. Advertisers tell us, in overt and subliminal messages that consuming their products will make us happy. They insist we must have the newer model, or to spend more frequently to be satisfied. And consumerism runs amok, leaving burgeoning landfills to bear witness to the glut.

First, thrift isn't about doing without. It's about doing the most with what you have. Shopping smart and purchasing only when necessary and with long term perspectives in mind, are the foundations of thrift. It's not about buying the cheapest item. It's about the cost per use: the item's packaging, its healthfulness, its recyclability and its durability. Most of these have long term costs which are less obvious, but no less pricey. Durability has direct impact on any product's cost per use: the longer the product's lifetime, the less cost per use and the longer the item survives outside a landfill. So, in a very real way, thrift is one expression of caring for the environment.

I've heard it insinuated by financial pundits that spend-thrifts are withholding from the economy and that makes them "unpatriotic." I couldn't disagree more. Thrift is conscious consuming, and thereby one of the truest economic acts. It supports businesses which offer the best quality, longest lasting products at reasonable prices. Supply and demand are the foundations of a vigorous marketplace. Avid consumption for the sake of numbers on a ticker, with absolute disregard for struggling eco- and social systems only distorts the ideals of a "free" economy. Thrift respects human need and works to balance that with the short- and long-term costs of resources.

There is no shame in thrift. Advertisers perpetuate a modern mythology in which thrift is the cave where the boogie man dwells. It can be, if one believes the myth. Thrift, for some, is an unavoidable and seemingly bitter result of economic downturn. For those who choose it, thrift is liberating: tastier, healthier, and a much more satisfying lifestyle. There is mania in working to keep pace with the demands of a greedy marketplace and the competitive consumerism it provokes. And ploys like planned obsolescence work against even the thriftiest consumer. It's not the frugal shopper who's to blame for a weakened economy. Thrifty people, more than most, are voting with their dollars. Thrifty people are choosing healthier foods and products, sold at reasonable prices, and questioning how much junk they'll be forced to send to a landfill. This is not seditious. Nor is it denial of comfort. Thrift is taking control of life in tangible ways.

Thrift is the strongest voice the people have.