How covid broke our relationship to spending

Recently the news broke that a record 9.2 million British working age adults don’t have a job and don’t want one. 700k more than in 2019.

I feel like I kind of get it. Covid was a once in a lifetime emergency stop on everything. With the slamming of those brakes many shifts happened in the hearts and minds of the masses. I think many people, myself included, realised that on balance, they could have a better life even with less money to spend.

One of the things the pandemic taught us is something that our dogs have always known –  that a walk around the park was fantastic way to spend an hour. In many cases doing cute, free or very cheap things (baking bread) was better than going out and spending, was better than the entertainment we had become convinced we needed to buy to be normal and happy. Similar to when when you’re truly thirsty you always prefer water to coke. The free section of life’s buffet is pretty chill, its just no one is screaming about it.

I think our dogs knew this already because, given their lack of language ability, they’re completely immune to marketing – a reminder that our weaknesses are our superpowers.

It reminded me of how the economy demands demand, and has to persuade us to want:

  • when the railways were first invented, the problem became convincing people that they wanted to go somewhere, so it was railway money that glorified destinations:
  • when steamships were invented, they needed to fill those cabins, but it took a week to cross the Atlantic, this wasn’t a holiday. The great steamship companies needed to persuade people that emigrating their lives to another continent was worth doing:
  • when cars were invented, people didn’t have anywhere to drive to. So it was the car industry that spent their profits persuading us there were special places hiding in the countryside:
  • and of course now:

If something has to be advertised to you – then you probably don’t need it.

I again think of Steve Jobs. I read in his Walter Isaacson biography that unlike most CEOs Steve Jobs rarely took international flights, he lived a 10 minute drive from his office, and he unwound by walking around in the woods.

I’m not being all kum-ba-yah about this – people need money. Most problems are solved with more cash, and money gives you tangible freedom and security that nothing else really can.

My point is that the way you want to spend it hasn’t really come from you. Your wants have been pushed on you. Seeds have been planted and ways of spending become normalised and glamourised. And, even amongst all that marketing noise, it just took a few weeks of ‘lockdown’ to lift the veil on it, to show us that quality of life comes from the wholesome stuff – nature, building and making stuff, watching spring bloom into life, but above all it comes from people.

I find it an uncomfortable truth, because we most of us don’t have a charismatic skill to curate the people in our life, and we can’t choose our family. We aren’t in control of who likes us. Yet I want to swallow the truth that the value in life largely comes from the people in it, and you can’t productise that.






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