Monday, February 15, 2010

Recession Reflections

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me advise my Gentle Readers that there will be disclaimers somewhere towards the conclusion of this ramble. They may not quench the torches of the angry Blog Villagers gathering across the moat surrounding my ivory tower, but they'll cover my butt as far as I'm concerned.

I am enjoying the recession. Yes, I said 'enjoying the recession'. And, furthermore, I'm glad it's happened. It gives me warm fuzzies to hear parents half my age tell their kids to be careful and to take care of their bodies, clothing, and playthings because Mommy and Daddy cannot afford to fix or replace said item. I smile broader when driving anywhere and see less fast-food litter on the sides of roads because people are stretching their food budgets in the supermarkets rather than the drive-thru. I cheer when I see people shopping at thrift shops for everyday necessities rather than feed the corporate big-box-store beast. I'm tickled pink when someone tells me--not about the latest CGI blockbuster they've seen--but about a new board game their family has discovered--one that I've been playing for 40 plus years.

Money is tight. Cash flow is restricted. Everyday folks are re-evaluating what's important. What matters. What things are worth. For the first time in a long time people are aware of the cost AND the value of 'stuff' both tangible and intangible. I think it's a good thing and it's about time.

I am an enthusiastic proponent of the barter and trade system. If the butcher, baker, candle stick maker, as well as the mechanic and tailor all conducted business on that system the quality of products and services would improve significantly. Currency is an impersonal means of revenue. When you invest your time and ability into producing goods in exchange for goods the value of your time and talent skyrocket. You feel better about yourself and validated by what your effort has acquired.

Last summer I traded some of my hand-crafted jewelry and beaded/embroidered table linens for help in yard work--brush clearing, stump removal and the like. I exchanged mending-darning-tailoring abilities for a summer's worth of fresh vegetables and eggs. I traded a cornucopia of custom pillows for carpentry. At the last craft fair I participated in I bartered wares for real maple syrup and honey. In essence I exchanged my hours of labor for someone else's hours of labor. It didn't matter how much time or labor we individually put into the product or service. What mattered was obtaining what we needed/wanted. I'd like to think we each felt we'd gotten the better deal. This year I will plant my own veggie garden and trade the extra harvest for things I need or want, as well as donating some to the local food pantry. What comes around truly goes around.

I completely understand that this system won't work with grocery and department stores, physicians, utility companies, etc... What I'm saying is--people are too focused on the money and not on what it purchases. Just give this a thought in a free moment: if the world suddenly stopped using cash what would you do to get what you needed? What do you have of value and what can you offer in exchange for keeping your household afloat? Sad to realize that there are many people in that very quandary as I write this.

Disclaimer time. I am NOT happy nor do I take any pleasure in anyone's loss of employment, health care, or habitation. I do NOT delight in seeing the homeless and hungry. I do NOT hope the recession lasts for very much longer. It breaks my heart that college students are grappling with dropping out of school and senior citizens are choosing between medication and food. Animal shelters filled to capacity because people cannot afford to feed and care for pets. For many people this has been a very unpleasant wake-up call and I hope the awakening reaps long-term real-life lessons that will benefit us all for generations to come.

There's nothing embarrassing about being frugal and practical. For that matter, there's really nothing wrong with money, either. As long as you remember it's supposed to work for you and not the other way around. Money is an ambivalent, parsimonious, taskmaster.


  1. Thanks, Red. I really hoped it didn't come across too muddled. I fear sometimes I'm experiencing brain freeze up here on the frozen tundra.

  2. As we say rather impolitely "Hear, bloody Hear" or in other words, I whole-heartedly agree with every word and like you, practise what I so frequently preach.
    Our local barter group, LETS, has members who are chiropractors, naturopaths, plumbers, builders,counsellors,gardeners and so on.We even have a school and a food co-op as members and have been running for nearly 19 years.It works and is part of a wider trading which goes on informally, as you do it in your life.
    It's nothing new but isn't it great to see it being rediscovered?
    Down-sizing, down-grading, down-scaling and a good think about priorities can produce a better place to live, happier families and better fed citizens.No petrol stations in our scheme but we live in hopes!!

  3. I couldn't have said it any bloody better than your last paragraph. I don't want to see people suffer but neither do I want to see any more of the planet getting trashed to manufacture stuff we don't need just to make a buck. Surely the most industrious species that has ever existed on Earth can figure out a way to stop defecating in the dish they eat out of.

  4. Couldn't agree more. Hopefully this will start to bend the curve of consumerism a bit downward. As generations move on, the definition of "having enough to get by" has grown more and more expansive (ipod, two cars, stacks of DVDs, etc etc etc). Hopefully the long-term effect of the recession will be to tamp that down a bit. Let's work a little less, play a little more, walk a little more, and for pete's sake eat less mcdonalds.

  5. Amen! You definitely have my hardy concurrence!