What­ever hap­pened to hand-me-downs?

How con­sump­tion be­came a way of life

Bayview Post - - Life -

My fam­ily moved to On­tario from Van­cou­ver, where we all were born, af­ter the Se­cond World War.

We were des­ti­tute. (As Cana­di­ans of Ja­panese de­scent, we had been treated as en­emy aliens and lost ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing all rights as Cana­dian cit­i­zens.)

I needed a coat for the cold eastern win­ter, so my par­ents pur­chased a new one — a big ex­pense for farm labour­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately, I was 11 and go­ing through a growth spurt and quickly out­grew the coat, so it was passed on to my twin sis­ter, Mar­cia.

She wore it for longer but also out­grew it and gave it to our younger sis­ter, Aiko.

My par­ents boasted that the coat was so well made: “It went through three chil­dren.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard dura­bil­ity touted as a pos­i­tive at­tribute of a prod­uct.

In to­day’s fash­ion-ob­sessed world, how many chil­dren would ac­cept hand-me-downs from sib­lings?

How did “throw away,” “dis­pos­able” and “planned ob­so­les­cence” be­come part of prod­uct de­sign and mar­ket­ing? It was de­lib­er­ate. Wars are ef­fec­tive at get­ting economies mov­ing, and the Se­cond World War pulled Amer­ica out of the Great De­pres­sion.

By 1945, econ­omy was blaz­ing as vic­tory ap­proached.

But how can a war-based econ­omy con­tinue in peace­time?

One way is to con­tinue hos­til­i­ties or their threat. The global costs of ar­ma­ments and de­fence still dwarf spend­ing for health care and ed­u­ca­tion.

Another way to trans­form a war­time econ­omy to a peace­time econ­omy is con­sump­tion.

Adam Smith, the father of modern eco­nom­ics, wrote in 1776: “Con­sump­tion is the sole end and pur­pose of all pro­duc­tion.”

Seized upon by the Coun­cil of Eco­nomic Ad­vis­ers to the Pres­i­dent un­der Dwight Eisen­hower in the 1950s, con­sump­tion was pro­moted as the en­gine of the econ­omy.

Re­tail­ing an­a­lyst Vic­tor Le­bow fa­mously pro­claimed in 1955: “Our enor­mously pro­duc­tive econ­omy de­mands that we make con­sump­tion our way of life, that we con­vert the buy­ing and use of goods into rit­u­als, that we seek our spir­i­tual sat­is­fac­tion and our ego sat­is­fac­tion in con­sump­tion. We need things con­sumed, burned up, worn out, re­placed and dis­carded at an ever-in­creas­ing rate.”

Now, we are no longer de­fined by our so­ci­etal roles (par­ents, church­go­ers, teach­ers, doc­tors, plum­bers, etc.) or political sta­tus (vot­ers), but as “cus­tomers,” “shop­pers” or “con­sumers.” David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Na­ture of Things and au­thor of more than 30 books on ecol­ogy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.