Being vociferously vocal on the poverty agenda, Pope Francis has once again been urging financiers and economists to help reverse the current “throw away” culture by putting people at the centre of monetary strategies. In our market-driven economy, too many people are forced to work in unbearable conditions because they are perceived to be both dispensable and replaceable. Children, young adults and the elderly are being dismissed by western society as unuseful and of little value, with high unemployment rates for young adults having created a “neither-nor” generation of young people who neither study or work, and are considered a burden to society in what should be their most productive years. And whilst the baby boomer generation was once the most hard-working and productive of the 20th century, America is now burdened with a retirement crisis characterised by too many people being too old to work, but too poor to retire.
Through our obsession with “best before” and “sell by” dates, us consumers have been powerfully persuaded by retailers to trade our money for convenience – with the result being an entire generation of people who want everything, but keep nothing and value little. Retailers and manufacturers have traded product longevity for product innovation, with the latter being packaged as convenient ‘time-savers’. Creating products that aren’t meant to last is a well-thought out and viable business strategy that is toxic by design – most significantly to our environment, but also to our ability to save. Everything from razors to radios, pantihose to play stations, cell phones to snap-chat, is designed to be discarded and replaced with no reasonable expectation of quality or durability. Even the gaming industry is built on the theory of “planned obsolescence” where games such as Grand Theft Auto and Candy Crush are dependent on buying the next installment, and the next, in perpetuity.
Sadly, shortened longevity appears not only to be confined to the shelf-life of products. Our attention spans, too, have become limited to sound-bytes of information drip-fed by the likes of Twitter and Instagram, forcing us to trade the substance of information for the suddenness of information.
The amount of waste that we produce characterises our market-driven economy, and it goes without saying that our “throw away” economy is tiresomely challenging our earth’s geological limits. Recognising that “what we do to our earth, we do to ourselves”, this generation is thankfully abuzz with renewed and far-reaching efforts to protect and preserve the earth’s bounty – so much so that it appears the “throw away” economy will soon be relegated to the trash heap of history. We are now faced with frantic global efforts to deal with the fall-out of a generation insisting on everything disposable – from cameras to contact lenses to coffee pods. And as much as this disposable economy has contributed to environmental headaches, the financial implications for us hard-working individuals are huge – with land-fill dumps and rubbish heaps standing as shameful monuments to our inability to save.
In a “throw-away” economy, our limited supply of money is expected to keep up with an endless supply of upgrades – a nonsensical mathematical equation designed to quietly erode our retirement savings. While we’re busy buying convenience – which is sold to us on the hypothesis that our time is either too precious or too scarce or both – we’re short-changing the comfort of our own retirement for the ease of ‘heat-and-eat’ meals. The treadmill that is the disposable economy is both cyclical and unforgiving: we work hard to earn money, and therefore have less time. Because we have less time, we buy convenience, which costs us more money. We then need to work harder to pay for the increasing number of conveniences we require, which results in even less time, more purchased conveniences and even less money. Pause and repeat.
In the disposable economy, we are hard-wired to discard of anything that falls outside the limits of its sell-by date and to permanently chase non-durable items that are designed to replace human effort under the guise of ‘convenience’. The “throw-away” economy is the breeding ground of instant gratification and the greatest enemy of long-term investing. It blurs our ability to discern what we want now as opposed to what we want more. It is the harbinger of an under-invested, over-indebted society with poorly funded retirement plans. Let’s collectively refuse to compromise our long-term savings in futile pursuit of the next must-have convenience under the pre-text that “our time is money”. It’s not. Our time is far more precious than that.