All over the western world, prices are on the rise. In the US, consumer prices have gone up by more than 6 percent, the most since the 1990s. In Germany, prices have gone up 4.5 percent, and in the United Kingdom, prices are up 5.1 percent. These leading economies demonstrate what is happening across Europe and North America. Pundits tell us that jams in supply chains have created a shortage in commodities and raw materials, and an increase in demand, which spirals prices upward.
I believe we can make inflation work for us. We can turn it into an opportunity to rethink our entire value system and figure out if there are more things to enjoy besides shopping, things that are more satisfying and less costly to us and to our planet.
Currently, we produce far more than we need. We throw away half the food we produce, manufacture unprecedented amounts of weapons of all kinds, and trash perfectly good phones in order to buy the latest model. We also apply this senseless approach to clothing, shoes, and many other goods. Do we feel happier when we act this way? Very briefly, before we sink into an even deeper depression. Meanwhile, our needless excessive shopping causes delays in supply chains where there should have been none.
The shopping frenzy does not help anyone. We are filling the soil and oceans with garbage and waste, polluting them with plastic and toxins, poisoning ourselves, the animals, and the fish. The only ones who benefit from this cycle are the business owners who see the number of zeros in their bank accounts grow even though the money is sitting there uselessly.
There is an alternative: We can produce as much as we need to live comfortably, which is less than half of what we produce now, buy only what we need, and spend the rest of our time bonding with each other. Instead of deriving meaningless pleasures from new smartphones, we will enjoy the stronger bonds among us, the greater sense of belonging and security, and the feeling of being surrounded by people who care about us rather than alienate us.
This is not a new idea. The ARI Institute wrote about it back in 2012 in the book The Benefits of the New Economy, and a few years later, The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman expressed similar ideas when he wrote in 2017 that in the future, people will need to “create more value with hearts and between hearts.” To this, he added, “We used to work with our hands. Machines replaced that but we started to work with our heads instead in a knowledge economy. …Next I think we’re going to work more with our hearts.”
To break the logjam where things are stuck because of our excessive competitiveness and alienation from each other, we should shift from pursuing material pleasures, which do not bring lasting happiness and charge a hefty environmental tax, to spiritual pleasures that come from enhancing and tightening family and community ties, and enhance the overall feeling of mutual responsibility in society.
Such a transition still requires explanation. People have been “programmed” to suspect and alienate everyone. If we want a sustainable society, we must “reprogram” ourselves to be the social beings we once were. We can wait a little longer if we want, but we must do it sooner rather than later. The longer we wait, the more compelling our shift in values will be since the broken supply chains and all the problems that plague our world will not heal themselves. Either we heal them by shedding what is redundant and adopting a more caring approach to each other and our planet, or life will strip us of anything that is not an absolute necessity.
Shoppers in the produce section in a Whole Foods Market supermarket in New York on Tuesday, December 14, 2021. Higher grocery prices are breaking the budgets of shoppers. (Photo by Richard B. Levine)