Recession of opportunity

Wednesday, June 12, 1991

By Willy Bach

If you ever get to rub shoulders with the rich and privileged or those aspiring to be, you will be amazed at the way they speak about and on behalf of the rest of society. It all sounds a little callous when they speak about the recession we had to have and how we will all have to tighten our belts and work harder (that's us — not them, of course).

When they talk about the necessity for hardship, it's us again — except they would not know the meaning of the dole queue, eating cardboard or an eviction notice. One of the favourite sayings among the back slapping camaraderie at the cocktail party is the famous "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" — a typically trite piece of nonsense that inspires the capitalists' imagination and gives them confidence to get out there and invest, exploit, plunder.

However, if you are a worker in training or in waiting, your vision of the world will no doubt be coloured by the degree of poverty you have become accustomed to and the fact that you have to work for every crumb that you eat. The trite little saying has a completely different meaning to you — but it could also be your rallying cry.

This recession has taught a lot of people that it is cheaper to ride a bicycle than to own a car, that you can get a good feed with very simple natural ingredients much cheaper than those greasy takeaways with dubious nutritional value and carcinogenic chemicals. You learn to do with less. You check out the flea markets, go to garage sales, barter, move away from the banking system into the cash economy — chuck out the credit cards — it's all about surviving.

Very soon you learn to entertain yourself and your friends and, hey, this is not such a bad way of life. And it's a lot "greener"than the high-stress high-consumption lifestyle.

Capitalism is not a conspiracy; it can only function on our consent. So let's fight back by not playing their game. Call it minimum contact, minimum cooperation. We could really have fun here if we stopped to think of all the things we could do without. This is an interactive, reader participatory article, so don't worry if I miss a few; just write your own suggestions.

I have heard my fellow workers say that they don't have time to grow their own food because they are working so many hours at their jobs. Many of these people spend large slabs of their wages in the major supermarkets on convenience foods. Now that the boss has shortened their hours, they are really hurting.

Now they do have time, they could start to grow some of their own food. They can find a subsistence level which gives them everything they really need — not what they used to think they needed. When the work picks up, they can decide whether they want the extra stress or not.

Similarly, we can live without getting into debt if we wait, then buy second-hand household items. We can all stop buying the nonsense products like Gripe Water, Bluloo, disposable nappies, disinfectant, aspirin, pantihose, inappropriately packaged items with high mark-ups, not be repaired, designer clothes (which are always overpriced).

When our capitalists decide they want to start investing for "growth" again and look for a lift in our consumption to boost their profits, we'll just tell them we're not interested. We will live at subsistence level without stress and have richer and more fulfilling lives, entertained by ourselves and each other, with barter and exchange that no consumption tax can reach — in short, minimum cooperation.

What about those among us who think they can win through the system to become capitalists themselves? Well, let them try. Most of us know that to be part of the game is to get drawn into the web — and we're not buying it. We're just not buying it.

Issue