You know that stuff that seems cheap to buy, but after you’ve made the purchase, you realize, later but usually sooner, that you’ve been ‘taken to the cleaners’, fleeced and fooled by delusions of what is called “false economy”?
The term is defined by Merriam Webster as: “false economy. noun. Something that costs less at first but results in more money being spent later”.
Time to face it, and stop it in your life. For you and all of us.
I bring this up because through the unending growth of our incredibly consumerist society it has become more and more clear to me, and many of us, that more often than not, we’re just not getting what we bargained for, on so many levels. And we can do much better, and we must, everyone.
This term applies to SO many transactions and situations in our lives. It’s not just about economics, there are social and political false economy examples everywhere too. You think voting against responsible investing and cleaner fuels, for example is good for society and our future? Even if it’s temporarily good for your personal or company’s bottom line, or a company in which you hold stock?
We’re talking about honesty. Tough conversations with ourselves and others. Choices we all make, maybe every day, and maybe – by the way – we could make a few fewer choices and buy less of everything anyway. Doubtless many, maybe most of our personal ‘bottom lines’ could benefit from more exercise and less eating. Me too, I’m right there with you, and you, and you too.
Because we’re all in this together, we’re all responsible to a greater or lesser extent for perpetuating beliefs of false economy. And it’s time we all wake up and actually learn just what consciously or unconsciously accepting and acceding to the many false economies in every facet of our lives is making them — that is, our lives individually and collectively — worse.
I’ll share a few examples, and not all of them are as painful to admit as others. But all require one thing of any honest, credible person. Acknowledge them for what they are and correct your views first, then start working on changing your habits.
Oh, and there is a silver lining for employers whose internal organizations and connections beyond it, i.e., clients, investors, suppliers, and partners, collectively recognize this need — there will be many new customers, suppliers, and talented workers looking for companies, local governments, and others that “get it” and get onboard with regenerative and TRULY sustainable practices and products. We’re talking about recognizing and embracing the real (and sensible) economics of climate change.
But first, back to those nasty habits of buying low, and getting less. If you haven’t experienced or indulged one of these, you doubtless have found many more to be true for you. And you might be doing lots of good in the world otherwise, but you’re not doing yourself, anybody to whom you share or perpetrate your belief in them, or the world, any favors by sticking to them. And by the way, nobody’s telling you to be posh, reckless, or go broke being good…just prudent, and aware. Buy what you can afford, but know what you’re really buying. Is that too much to ask, or demand, of yourself as a consumer and citizen of this planet?
Face it and stop it
1) Cheap, lousy, wear-them-six-or-ten-times-and-dump-them clothes. You know what I’m talking about. They don’t generally last, they’ve usually got all sorts of problems with their manufacture methods and locations, issues of pay equity and mistreatment of their employees are common, and they’re bound more often than not to be made with not just inferior or even improperly sourced materials but just maybe dangerous chemicals as well. Did you know this wasn’t at all common until perhaps the last 60 years or so? We created this habit, and only we can break it.
So why do you think cheap clothing is ‘economical’ when it usually doesn’t look good for long and, again, has a much shorter useful life than quality garments made the right way by people who are treated well, sold by companies that care about not just profit but their employees, environmental health, and societal impacts of their products? And maybe also deliver a high-value customer experience in the bargain? And maybe you keep them and wear them for years, instead of in a few months throwing many or most of them in the landfill, where they do no good and much harm to everyone.
2) Breakable dollar store-type housewares and gadgets. If you’ve bought them, you know what I’m talking about. And we all probably have, in a pinch, thinking “I’ll just get this cheap knockoff, save a few bucks”. But all the time, regularly? What is your purchase getting you, in most cases?
Poorly designed, or worse, illegally copied or poorly replicated products of dubious manufacture and core ingredients, sold on the cheap because no one would likely ever buy them given higher quality options. Except they don’t cost as much. Wow, big deal, and, actually not a deal at all. Because, alas, they almost always don’t last nearly as long as products costing only a few dollars more. And sorry to embarrass you, they typically don’t look well-built, function as well or often have any service, support or guarantees either. And once again, think about how and where they were put together. In many cases, their entire production and lifecycle model is destructive and wasteful. It’s not sustainable and you wouldn’t ever want one of your family members working at the factory that produced them, right?
3) Cheap food, packaged, frozen, prepared, delivered. Now here’s where it gets interesting, and I’m sure some people will disagree. But they can’t back it up in most cases. Not anymore. I’m well aware of the problem of ‘food deserts’ where local residents don’t have proximate places where they can purchase much – if any – nutritious food or supplies of generally high or even reasonable quality. And that’s a problem we have to solve together in our communities. For those who have no choice, we must help them find such options, for their own health and the greater good of society.
But for everyone else, which is by the way, most of us, one challenge we can solve right now is to decide that — at least most of the time, we all will have exceptions and lapses occasionally — we’ll look at labels and ingredients, and we won’t support companies or restaurants that produce food that is packed with chemicals and preservatives and artificial sweeteners, flavors and other garbage. You know them, they are usually marketed incessantly to the unsuspecting public using any lure or justification other than advertising what’s actually IN them. Because, you know what they say… “garbage in, garbage out” (in this case, meaning into and out of your body) and worse, this lousy, hyper-produced and often over-packaged food then ends up in the garbage dump or sewer system adding to the chemical-filled, major waste problems facing our society.
At least if you eat foods of higher quality, more vegetables, more fresh fruits, even more sustainably packaged foods with carefully sourced and prepared ingredients, you’ll know you’re doing the best thing possible for your body, for the neighborhood, and probably for the producers of that food too. And guess what, you’ll probably spend more, but you’ll also get much more for your money in the short run (your vigor and health) and in the long run too. Here, I’m talking about your health, the planet’s health, and a cleaner environment less littered with packaging — often of the plastic variety — to fill up landfills and despoil our precious oceans (where lots of it ends up. Plastic recycling, sorry to say, is largely a myth. At least for now.)
What else, you ask?
I haven’t even brought up some of the most obvious false economies yet, like “Gas is cheaper in America so let’s use it instead of electricity to run our cars and trucks, heat our homes, and run our leaf blowers and lawn mowers, etc.”
I’m as guilty as you of indulging in THESE and more false economies, in fact, LIVING many of them for most of my life (though I’ve never had a gas-powered leaf blower, so there’s that). But here and now I am admitting the others, and that I was wrong. I’m recognizing that I and society at large have to do something about them because if we looked at many of our product and lifestyle choices’ True Cost of Consumption, meaning the FULL and REAL cost of producing, distributing, using, and disposing of them, it’s not a good look at all. And, in reality, they’re not even close to cheap. Really.
Take fossil fuels, which for all the damage they’ve already caused, it’s astonishing sometimes to think that we’ve only been sucking them out of the ground for maybe 175 years! Sure they power so much of commerce. Yet their negative impacts — even if hidden or ignored until recently — are HUGE and detrimental to our environment now and in the near term, even more so in the not-too-distant future. And it’s super difficult to reverse the harm our bad choices have already caused. But we can stop or dramatically slow the bleeding. We can if we’re honest with ourselves and make honest, sensible, and yes, practical choices for us, and for our fellow citizens and creatures of Earth.
Get the facts
If you want the facts on this, just pick up a copy of The Carbon Almanac, produced 100% by volunteers from around the globe and following meticulous, double and triple-checked legitimate research on the topic of climate change and a few related issues. It’s all in there for you to see. Facts. Not conjecture, not opinion, not hearsay. The science in black and white for all to see. Real, and better, honestly cheaper choices you can make, that others are making. In communities. Worldwide. Right now.
One big challenge for you: Ask yourself, if right now, all fuels were actually brand new to the world, and you have a choice to make on which to use, to power and cook all the things in your life. They all cost about the same, just as is quickly becoming the actual case now given recent innovations, despite what you may have heard to the contrary.
With other much more Earth-friendly and ‘cheaper’ fuel sources (in terms of True Costs of Consumption, for sure) available to us, isn’t continuing to drill and use petroleum for power and plastic a pretty terrible, even embarrassing example of us indulging a false economy of the worst kind?
Take a look, give it a try
My point here is really simple: take a look, honestly, at where you have been indulging in the fantasies (and harmful ones, indeed) of false economy in your life. Admit how the comparatively lower price you’ve paid for a low-quality or environmentally, socially, or nutritionally damaging product or service is really not recognizing the full impact of that choice. In reality, not doing you, your loved ones, or the world around you any favors.
Look at the True Costs of Consumption for everything in your life, and pick out a few places, just a few at first, to prove your commitment to honesty, and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues and employers to do the same. Start thinking where you can make changes, and if it isn’t possible to change your buying and consuming habits overnight, target a few for next week, next month, or at the very least the next time you have a choice to make the better buy of something, the truly cheaper option in that it makes the most actual sense for you and humanity and for our children’s futures. It’s courage, and it’s a choice you can make. And then you can do it again and again. That’s called momentum in the right direction.
True economy, not false economy. Truth is, it is your choice how you live your life, but the reality for everyone is this: the cost of whatever you buy accrues to all of humanity, and future generations. And that isn’t cheap at all.