The upside of the  global recession--and yes, there is one

As a quasi-American, this may be a risky and genetically surprising statement, but I am starting to think the recession has a bright side. Like everyone else, I have been skimming the headlines with a heavy heart and sense of doom—we haven’t even put up this year's Christmas tree and already 2009 is looking like a fizzer. Yes, John Key has turned up in his old-man jeans to save the day with his much-ballyhooed financial expertise, but even with that level of enthusiasm, I can’t see how he will maintain the necessary momentum to get us out of this mess before a bunch of us have lost our homes, our life savings, and our optimism. Oh, wait. That’s already happened.

Surveying the damage, I feel really lucky. I am not a senior who has had to postpone retirement to fend off creditors or a low-wage worker adding a second or third job to my day to survive. Our household consists of two 30-something working adults, albeit neither with a fulltime job. We are feeling the pinch, but in no way could we compare ourselves with families such as those in December’s North and South cover story, or the Blue Chip investors, or homeowners forced into mortgagee sales. That is true misery.

Still, there are signs that all is not tickety boo at our house. We have pulled our rental property off the market after six weeks of minimal interest and one frankly insulting offer; we’re feeding the puppy Home Brand food, which he likes well enough; I am dyeing my own hair and to hell with the split ends and slight purple hue. We rarely go to the movies, or out for a drink. Videos are a treat. Sometimes we harrumph at another night in reading books and playing with the pup (as entertaining as he is), but the discipline of not spending money unless absolutely necessary has been freeing in some ways. I don't feel obliged to look at those Briscoes inserts that fall out of the Herald, or spend time considering whether I "need" a kicky little playsuit, which Sunday magazine suggests could be just the thing this summer.

For the first time since high school I went shopping with a wad of bills in hand instead of using my eftpos card. When I got to the last $10 note, I was finished. Time to go home. It was a relief. I am spending less time on crap gossip mags and crap TV (we don’t have Sky). My personal maintenance routine—never particularly rigorous—has diminished. No more special occasion manicures, no more buying experimental makeup I will never wear. Good riddance. We are sharing a car, as we have for the past two years, and although that can be frustrating it is also much cheaper and better for the environment.

That’s another bright side to this recession—it’s good for the planet. We cannot afford to continue to consume at the rate at which we do, I don’t care what anyone says about GDP. The quicker we learn to curb our automobile use, re-purpose our old stuff, grow our own vege gardens, and share what we don’t need with friends and family rather than throw it away, the better. It's called living within our means, and it's a lesson that's long overdue.

Those of us who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s had a taste of all this after the ’87 stock market crash and its aftermath, although the current economic downturn is already a lot more serious. I did my bit at university by wearing my grandfather’s work shirts to class and buying used textbooks. (It felt important at the time.) The millennials, with their indulgent upbringings, have not experienced anything like the deprivation that could be visited upon us in the next 12 months. At the risk of sounding like my dear, late father—a Depression era kid—it’s about time they learned the value of a dollar.

Comments (3)

by Kate Hannah on November 18, 2008
Kate Hannah

absolutely! if better practises in terms of environmental impact come about because environmental = cheaper, then this recession could be what the planet needs from us at this point.  all the christmas talk i'm hearing seems to involve less plastic crap (that's what christmas is all about when you have kids) and more stuff people actually need.  whole families are doing the oxfam/tear fund gifts this year, and many more people seem to be doing hampers etc for people in need.  i'm guessing that the though process is if we're feeling the pinch in Remuera, it's worse in South Auckland. my op shopping, once  a weird quirky hangover from student days, is becoming something people want advice on . . .

by Kara-Leah Grant on November 27, 2008
Kara-Leah Grant

Great points. We are collectively living in denial about the impact of measuring the "success" of a nation on it's GDP.

You can't care about the environment on one hand and champion consumer-product based growth on the other without ending up in a fistfight.

This so-called crisis represents a huge opportunity for the entire world to collectively shift it's thinking around economics and value.

What is the point of making more money? When will we be pragmatic, visionary and honest enough to factor in the massive costs to society of "cost-cutting" measures?

Now is the time for creative, innovative, original thinking - rather than desperate measures to shore-up a world system that hasn't been working for the majority of the globe's citizens in a long, long, time. Like ever.

We're all on this planet together. There's no getting off.

Forget about making money. Let's start valuing life, and acting accordingly.




by Bruce Thorpe on November 27, 2008
Bruce Thorpe

I guess it is my age that makes me feel familiar with the old couple in Maine in the previous piece. I feel quite scared about the economic tone I am hearing from those closer to the action than me. That is in part the fear of the unknown. Although I grew up in New Zealand at war, and as a boy I was a civilian and  the civilians were doing things quite hard. There was rationing of food and shortages of everything imaginable..

IAFter the war,  as a child of eight, I saw coloured balloons and I ate a peppermint stick without sharing it with others

There was a lot of good simple pleasures in those times, but illnesses were pretty chronic and quite often a sickly child in a family might die. Without public transport, and no petrol for cars, a lot of families lived a long way from the sea.

 It was when the economy picked up at the end of the war and men had jobs and spent money that the prosperous times arrived, and that generation lived the Kiwi dream of car, bach and a boat.

Since that time we have been surprised by a few serious downturns, but we have in the main survived them, but the ones at the bottom of society feel the stress of these drops into poverty.

Some people are going to have tragic memories in the years ahead. And in the main  they will be from those who are already overcrowded, undereducated with too many health issues.

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