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Cost and convenience

We might talk of cost and convenience, but is it ever clear how those calculations are playing out? We might pay more for the convenience of locally available products, but what’s the ultimate cost of that consumer behaviour? We might celebrate low prices, but who’s actually paying the cost for them? It might be convenient and enjoyable to buy essentially disposable items, but what’s the real cost of doing so?

Presumably every item does have both a cost and a price for which it’s deemed worthwhile letting it go. Whether that price is a reflection of its true cost or more a calculation around the value of shifting the market in some way is another matter. Getting people used to convenience creates a demand, I suppose, while also driving out less well-stocked or competitively-priced alternatives.

As I’ve said before, I’m not an economist; but the way goods are being delivered, produced and priced conceivably affects us all in countless fundamentally important ways (see Note One). Afterall, we’re all now effectively plugged into the same system: methods of production, savings offered by shipping that elsewhere, and the related human or environmental costs all paint a picture on the global scale.

What if our “convenience” is coming at the cost of too much? Outsourcing commercial functions seems to often be taking advantage of other countries’ lower costs and/or relative environmental riches; possibly destroying the diversity of local activities while commodifying the lives and landscapes of those living there. We might dress that up as development, but it’s clearly reshaping many peoples’ livelihoods.

In terms of the longer-term outcomes of our relatively short-term consumer decisions, does this not raise a lot of questions? Why are we being encouraged to seek immediate satisfaction while disregarding the bigger picture? If our choices are destroying environments, communities and traditional industries while distorting markets so only the most ‘competitive’ survive, what future are we setting up?

We might enjoy the streams of novelty in all its forms, but surely there’s going to be very real costs to that? We’re generating an insane amount of waste on scales the world’s never before known. If we’re treating others unfairly, might there be justifiable backlash? Then, the psychological cost to keeping up with it all and filtering marketing chatter out of our visual, cultural and media channels. (Notes Two)

Of course, understanding the intricate inter-relationships of modern, global marketplaces is incredibly difficult. And, evidently, it’s a way of operating that’s fostered rapid progress and international cooperation across the field of human endeavour. I’m aware many people embrace that dynamic quality, praising how it’s freed us from past limitations and enabled vast leaps forward.

But still, at what cost? What exactly are we leaving behind us by living this way? Beyond the mountains of waste, relentless white-noise of advertising, strings of broken industries and lost richness of countries we’ve wrung dry for our own gain, what are we going to be left with? And, how might we be judged for that?

Notes and References:

For an interesting, insightful and very human perspective on this, see the documentary “Chris Packham: In Search of the Lost Girl” (BBC, UK), 2018.

Note 1: What is economical
Note 2: Waste and consumer choices
Note 2: Living in luxury, on what grounds?
Note 2: At what cost, for humans & for nature
Note 2: Will novelty ever wear off?

Approaching this from other angles, the insights of Schumacher and Huxley were considered in “Small is Beautiful” & “Brave New World Revisited”.

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