Saturday, December 26, 2009

Linking our unsustainable lifestyle to exploitation

It's important to realize just what makes our high consumption possible. Simple preference is not the only factor. I would put forward that a lot of what contributes to it is the fact that the U.S. as a whole doesn't pay the true cost for what it consumes. This goes beyond just the environmental cost into basic things like labor costs and resources. The fact is that most of what we consume is imported from countries where they pay workers next to nothing, far below what any notion of a fair wage would dictate that they should earn even adjusted for developing world circumstances. We get the surplus value that they produce for the companies in the form of prices for goods that are always low, always. These low prices in turn enable us to consume more of what's being produced than we otherwise could have.

Although the consequences of a globalized economy on workers in the U.S. are now manifesting themselves, for the most part the road down into greater class division in the U.S. has been a slow one, with wealth from globalization inflating the upper classes to a much more dramatic extent than the downward pressure of people doing worse because their jobs are moving overseas. Over time, though it adds up. People can consume more on the way down than they otherwise would be able to. Of course the cheap prices for essentials also have a downward effect on wages since it's now possible for workers to live on less and not be in open revolt, creating a new floor that's also lower than what would be possible if people were paying more reasonable prices for things. So it cuts both ways. But both of those ways destroys the planet through resource use.

If we want to save the planet it's not enough to just cut down our own consumption of products. We have to start paying the true cost of what we consume, and this includes both labor costs and environmental costs. If we start doing this it will encourage people to consume less and to adjust their spending patterns in a way that's more rational with regards to the true situation of things. How internal class divisions within the United States will effect this is easy predict, and it has an easy solution: socialism. Increased costs passed onto the consumer will hurt the poor and workers the most unless our class divisions are dealt with and wealth redistributed. But we also need job creation so that we're actually generating funds that can be distributed through society, that will pump money into the economy as a whole, especially now in our current economic situation. If people in the third world countries where we get our goods from are paid more it will bring costs up to a point where products from the first world will become more competitive, leading to more American products selling on the world market. But of course all of this will only be possible if we can wrench the political and social system away from the largely invisible top of the wealth pyramid that now benefits from all of this--in both their corporate roles and their role as wealthy individuals.

No comments: