Sometimes we forget that what we call “the economy” is always a relationship with another person: the cashier who checks out our stuff in the supermarket, the farmer who plants and harvests the vegetables we buy, or the bus driver that takes us to work every day. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all interrelated, linked to each other by a delicate and complex network of exchanges that sustain our lives.
The quality of these relationships is the quality of our economy. Therefore, it is worth asking what kind of relationships we want to have with others: Do we strive to extract the maximum benefit in the shortest time possible? Do we see the person in front of us as a means to achieve our ends? Or on the contrary, do we want to have a relationship of care and harmony with them? Do we want to know them and grow with them in our relationship? Understanding that no one will make these decisions for us is essential for the change we need in order to stop the current climate crisis. In our hands is the decision to take less of everything around us and stop worshipping the god of growth and economic progress and his dogmas.
To stop seeing the world with a consumerist, utilitarian and dominant desire is perhaps one of the urgent things we need to do as soon as possible. For instance, we need to end the unbridled tourist fantasy that put in the atmosphere tons of CO2 every minute, the insatiable hunger for entertainment that drives junk television, the maddened craving for novelty and excitement that feeds on the apathy of living.
But then, what kind of life should we choose to change the collision course in which we seem to have been programmed by the consumer lifestyle that we have agreed to follow?
It seems to many of us that there is no room for ambiguity at this point in the current climate crisis, and it is clear that this type of life should imply a conscious option for reduction. Less work, less consumption, less transport based on fossil fuels, less banality and celebrity culture, less luxury, etc. But it should also mean more: more meaningful relationships, more relationships with our neighbours, more time to develop as humans, more freedom. So, at the end of the day, who is free? Is free the one who has money and must constantly worry about making it grow and protecting it? Or perhaps the one who has time to spend with himself, with family, friends and neighbours is free?
Will each of us be able to make the necessary choices to narrow down our options just as the post-pandemic economic system recovers and the pressure on consumers to return to shopping, luxury consumption and accessory travel are increasing?
The answer is simple and complex at the same time. We will come to reduce our consumption and change our consumer lifestyle by reason or by force. By reason means driven by our risen reflexivity and awareness, collaborative work with neighbours and communities, resilience, education, etc. On the other hand, we will be forced to reduce our consumption as the climate crisis will alter the supply chains of our supermarkets, the clothing factories in the third world will be flooded. The cost of raw materials will increase, or we will have pandemics associated with mutations related to climate change that will drastically alter the economy.
Today, our survival and the legacy we will leave to future generations that already inhabit this planet depend on these decisions. Having all the information in front of us, are we going to decide to fail them?
I started this column by saying that the economy is a relationship with other people. The quality of that relationship depends on us: treating others with dignity and giving them opportunities to develop their uniqueness. Cultivating our relationships with others is a way of challenging that counterproductive and vicious cycle of consumer utilitarianism that so badly need to leave behind. Why?
Because we are the economy.