Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dependancy on money and economic sustainability

My recent trip back to Penang has convinced me that the fastest way to social and material infrastructure development is by cultivating consumerism in the society. No doubt it is horrible and should be objected yet such observation does not negate the fact that the mechanism provided by prevalent consumerism does hasten the current of monetary flow and so boosting the economic scene.

People are being and will continued to be indoctrinated to consume and spend more. Appetite for material consumption will be the primary motivating force to earn more. Hence life will neither be lived to work nor for doxology. The purpose of life will be taught to consume, and the dependency on money will be increased dramatically. Social classification is oriented to consumption (for eg. a 'middle-class' is determined by how much he/she consumes. In a consumerism-driven society, this is a better indication than how much one earns).

The second trip was to Tanjong Balai, a fishermen's village in Indonesia. The families that I met and the homes that I've visited probably have much lower income in living-hood comparison to a middle-income family in Penang and Singapore. Yet each family is economically more sustainable.

There is this middle-aged couple, which the husband works as a fisherman, is able to parent nine children. A younger couple, whose husband is also a fisherman, has four children. The size of their house is about the size of a 2-rooms flat in Singapore. Yet most couples in Singapore and Penang hardly want more than three children. They share the same reason for not wanting more children: Economically impractical.

From these observations, I postulate that the survival of a family has much to do with the socio-economic factors, particularly the job of the breadwinner. Tanjong Balai is a fishermen's village. Given that the breadwinner's job is to provide food for the family, and if his job is creating food (eg. fisherman, farmer, etc), then the family sustainability is less dependent on money and so also less affected by monetary inflation. That means when an inflation hits the market, the family can just maintain a fish-diet without the need to earn more money to keep the sustainability of the family. (Though it can be argued that in cosmopolitans like Singapore and Penang affected families can also react to inflation by changing to cheaper diet which is equivalent to those in Tanjung Balai, yet this misses the point that I am trying to make: the higher degree of dependence on money, the more economically difficult one becomes. Add to that, we rarely see a cosmopolitan millionaire wants nine children. Why?).

Philip Goodchild points out the elevated dependency of money well:
"...in a capitalist economy, accumulation occurs through the use of money: in the equitable relation of voluntary trade, the moral and political relations from which wealth derives are no longer directly evident. The equitable relation of trade appears to embody justice. To oppose money as the fundamental principle of the social order is therefore deeply immoral and unjust from the perspective of that order. It destroys just standards of measure as well as hindering opportunities for accumulation. To question the pursuit of wealth is to set oneself against all common sense, all agreement, all political power and all practicality. Moreover, since wealth gives access to power, to question the pursuit of wealth is to abandon all power, so dooming oneself to a futile quest."
(Philip Goodchild, The Theology of Money, p.4)

1 comment:

zenhow said...

Like you say, "social classification is oriented to consumption', consumerism can be seen as a result of "Keeping up with the Joneses". Thorstein Veblen gave a term for it called 'conspicuous consumption'. If Jack has a iPod, Peter had to have one too.

Here lies the case of, the more you have, the more you are afraid to lose.