Friday, January 09, 2009

Purchase Useless Things?

Yesterday, I listened to an interview with Charles Handy on NPR's "Marketplace." Handy was very insightful. He was talking about how we got in to the economic mess we are in and how people spend a lot of money because they could spend it and thought they would always be in good times (positive speculation).

He quoted from Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.
"A profitable speculation is presented as a public good because growth will stimulate demand and everywhere diffuse comfort and improvement. No patriot or man of feeling could therefore oppose it. But the nature of this growth, in opposition, for example, to older ideas such as cultivation, is that it is at once undirected and infinitely self-generating in the endless demand for all the useless things in the world."
Governments are trying to create stimulus packages to get consumers to spend again. They want us to purchase more "useless things," in other words.

Another quote from Handy made me think:
We may get back to a saner kind of world -- what Adam Smith called "cultivation" or "civilization" -- where we don't all sort of spend our life trying to make money, to buy things we don't really need to impress the neighbors, and so on. Where we actually do work -- not 60 hours a week, but 40 hours a week. Where we actually do take holidays. Where we actually get to know our kids again. Where it actually becomes smart to have a tiny car, to walk and bicycle and these sorts of things. And we may find we enjoy it actually just as much as the hectic pace that we've seen in recent years. I've often said that capitalism, particularly in America, is a very exhausting business. It tires people out.
In a very hectic, and troubled world, Mr. Handy made a lot of sense on a very basic level.


Wendell Hicken said...

"the endless demand for all the useless things in the world"

I love this phrase. Very fitting, as I'm trying to get rid of all the useless things I've collected in my garage. Will I be smart enough to avoid this mess again in ten years, though?

Mojo said...

Good question. Will we all be smart enough to avoid the mess in 10 years? What (besides economics) will make us change? It also makes me wonder about the impact of small businesses as we determine what is "useless."