Return to the Overcoming Consumerism Index

Anti-Consumerism and The Alternate Economy.

 

 

Many people are finding that the economy no longer works for them.

Even after obtaining an education, gathering skills and training, hard work and paying their dues, achieving success or merely comfortable survival has become very difficult.

Those that have reached a certain level of material comfort are often insecure and must work multiple jobs and manic hours to try and preserve it.

Forces beyond our control have changed the economic rules while we continue to play by them in the old game. Jobs that allow one to live a decent life are almost impossible to find, promised benefits have evaporated, healthcare costs for the Middle Class have skyrocketed, job security is nonexistent. Greed, competition, individualism and selfishness have become the hallmarks of the economy.

Meanwhile, we're expected to continue consuming and responding to advertising and paying our taxes as before, but with the deficit made up by our free time, our community sovereignty and a willingness to take whatever job comes along to the benefit of the New Money Masters of the Economy. The growing unemployment and imminent economic depression that is being felt throughout the country means that things will only get worse.

People sometimes react to the inability to meet their expectations through expressions of anger, depression or substance abuse. Others turn to crime and parasitize people through overt stealing or theft by another name, such as multilevel marketing or the sale of questionable value in merchandise or services.

People are turning away from this situation in disgust and anger and are helping to develop an Alternate Economy as both a healthy survival mechanism and as a means of protest. 

One can participate in the Alternate Economy in many different ways according to their taste. The one commonality is that it serves that needs of People and the Public-Good first, and robs the ability of outsiders to take advantage of people economically.

Another advantage to it is that it engenders a safer and more pleasant environment for both individuals and families to live within.

Third, is that smaller, highly self-sufficient local economies, largely independent of the global economy are more likely to survive economic reversals.

Finally, When you use many of the techniques that follow, much of your economic activity becomes almost unseen and most importantly, unmeasured, so that it no longer helps to validate the system that has disenfranchised so many people. You stop supporting their game and vote against what they stand for at the same time that you help yourself and assist others.

When retail sales numbers climb, as do units shipped, dollar amounts sold, corporate profits and stock prices go up, all these statistics are then parroted by the party in power and its supporters as an example of the alleged success of their economic policies in spite of the negative effect that they have on real people and the real productive economy.

Some people get militant about this as a form of overt political protest with the deliberate goal of starving the system that has become their enemy by witholding their money as a form of rebellion- If they want to use the techniques in our website-more power to them.

Certain kinds of discretionary spending are not reflected in the retail sales numbers, such as buying items for cash in small businesses or garage sales, barter or paying workers in cash.

Read the desperate stories of hundreds of people in the Middle Class and Once Well Off Class who now suffer economic death as the changing rules of society make them irrelevant, poverty bound and the wealth of our nation drifts upward to the top 1%.
WE ARE THE 99%

 

Here are some examples of The Alternate Economy at work:

* Many people are instinctually abandoning their patronage of big-box department and grocery stores like Home Depot, Walmart and Safeway with their foreign and Wall Street ownership in favor of returning their business to small to medium sized stores. These emphasize personal contact and service for the customer which the mega-store-corporate-profit-center-model cannot provide, only talk about in its advertising.

Other advantages of the smaller businesses are their human scale and local ownership and the retention and recycling of both profits and taxes in the community in which workers and owners live.

The superficial "savings" alleged in the purchase of the often large quantities of frivolous things from the big box stores are more than negated by money going out of local communities to distant corporations or through the importation of low wage slaves that take jobs from locals and send hundreds of billions per year to their home countries. The supposed savings are negated by investors that actively destroy as many Middle Class sustaining jobs as possible for the greatest profits,the loss of local control, disregard for local decision making and lack of responsiveness to the community.

An additional advantage of this smaller scale retailing is that the merchants can be more flexible and stock products made regionally, the value of which is based on inherent excellence, environmentally benign design and word of mouth reputation rather than expensive advertising campaigns that hype the image of mediocre lowest-common- denominator branded products made for a world market in the most exploitive factory available at the time. As American jobs in manufacturing disappered, we have seen "Made in HongKong"-"Made in Taiwan", "Made in Mexico" and "Made in China" on the things we buy.  

The health aspect of eating high quality organic food is acknowledged by educated and informed people. Boycotting fast food includes the fast food establishments that masquerade as real restaurants such as TGIF Fridays, Carrows, Chilis, Olive Garden and Denny's etc. If a restaurant advertises on national TV, it is a fast food terminal. It's feedstock will come from central warehouses and will most likely contain preservatives, pesticides, antiobiotics and genetically modified ingredients, otherwise it couldn't last on the shelves and the semitrucks and appear salable at its end distribution point.

 * In the Alternate Economy, there is an emphasis on personal relationships. Instead of everything being monetized with a price tag and "savings" being the only criteria for choice of business one patronizes, the currency of loyalty and reciprocity is used along with cash.

The guy with the truck becomes the one to do the job instead of the national chain of junk haulers with the 800 number. Instead of the corporate chain store at the mall, the kids clothing resale shop can provide parents with what they may need in exchange for outgrown items. If no local resale shop, donate your childrens' clothing to a neighbor in need directly. If for a lack of an alternative, you must patronize the big stores, let their employees know that you are on their side and that they are more important than the products or the prices of what they sell.

Most when treated decently and with courtesy will help you to no end. Often one way that people interact in such situations is to give away products or services. "Just take it" or "no charge" or "I'll give you the sale price" is something that we hear a lot from corporate employees who enjoy getting even with their employers and relish the interaction with people that they've established a relationship with over time.

"It's us against them-we're all in this together" is the message that you need to communicate to them. Part of this relationship is helping to safeguard their jobs.

One way to do this is to adamantly refuse to use job-destroying technology. Never use an ATM card, instead get to know the tellers in your local bank and if there's no line behind you, take your time with them, hang out gossip and enjoy the transaction. This is the antithesis of the corporate efficiency model that forces them to work harder and faster. The machines that allow you to check out your books at the library, if accepted by the public, will eliminate jobs of librarians.

The new Self-Checkout machines in grocery stores will not lead to lower prices only fewer adults with decent union jobs and higher CEO salaries. The economics of automated theater ticket and "food" dispensing machines have not led to lower prices, only skeleton staffs and tiny satellite "auditoriums" with atrocious sound and visuals approaching the home theater level. It is important to let the workers and especially the management in these situations know that you will not spend money in a business with few or poorly treated employees.

i.e. " You know, if you were ever to eliminate Ingrid's job nobody that I know will ever come back here and spend one cent....."

or , "If you send your customer service work to India, we'll boycott your company". Management hears about these comments and will change decisions in favor of workers if enough people voice their opinion about this. ASK that your call to customer service be recorded so that management can hear your opinon. Ask help line operators where they are. If in India or other overseas operations, ask to speak to a supervisor and or be connected to corporate headquarters for help.

When doing business on the telephone, avoid automated phone systems in favor of talking to humans. Try punching "0" for operator as soon as you are in the system. Often "00" or "000" or other multiples of this will save you from languishing in 'Voice Jail'. Another trick - and this is Really hitting corporations below the belt -is to call their "New Businesses" number, or "sales" number which are usually answered by helpful people ready to take your money. Tell them you are a "business customer and love their company etc.", "but you have a little problem to fix and could they please transfer you to repair or customer service" etc. "But first, could could you please give me that direct number?" Write it down and use it.

 

 Join a credit union: These are Non-Profit alternatives to banks, usually without fees, charges, advertising etc. Insured and offering the same services as banks.

Find out about credit unions and or locate one near you here:

 

* Publicize the good. After years of living in a place one develops a network of connections and knowledge of the local economic scene. One's routines become easier because you know which stores are good and what to avoid. Why not share this knowledge with pleasant people from your cohort?

 

 

One of the ways to do this is to create a list of your favorite local businesses.

Imagine if you had just moved to or were visiting a town and had no idea where to shop, eat or get your car fixed other than the heavily advertised corporate outlets that line the main roads. What if you met somebody in the market or library that offered you an informal printed list of their favorite businesses with the location, hours and what they thought was great about them, who the owners were etc. You would be grateful to that person and would benefit from their years of experience. You can become that person. Create a list for your area. Share your knowledge and help the deserving small businesses that can't afford to advertise.

Here's some hypothetical examples of the kind of information we put on our list:

  • Joe's Organic Foods: 122 Greenway Lane 444-1212, 8:00 AM to 8:30 PM, 7 days. Home bakery-their wheat bread is incredible, sandwiches and fruit juices to go or eat in the patio. Large selection of small brand Organic products and fresh produce delivered everyday from the Willamette Valley. Owned by Joe Jones and his family since 1978. Full benefits for full time employees-partial for part-timers. Free delivery to shut-ins.
  •  
  • High Creek Lumber: 1432 Railroad Avenue 444-3456, 6:AM to 6 PM Mon thru Sat, Sun 10-5. High quality building materials and a through working knowledge of carpentry and building. 1 day special orders of odd size lumber. Free sawdust for your garden. Popcorn for "kids". Picnic table behind office great place to sit and watch trains. Owned by the Bensen Brothers since 1988. All employees have medical and dental. 3 blocks past Home Depot when coming from town.

 

  • Millie's Cafe: Route 6 at Williams. Since 1972. 444-8978. Breakfast only 6 AM to 10 AM 7 days. Huge waffles with organic strawberries, real organic whipped cream, Huge pancakes any size stack you want 25c each. Organic maple syrup. Eggs any way you like them, toast and Strong Organic coffee- that's all Millie serves. Teresa, the lady that works there on weekends is going to take over from Millie in a few years and is buying the business now. The menu will Not Change! Hard to find, go 3 blocks past McDonald's on Railroad and turn left on Wright, go one block then right on Williams.

 

Notice the accountability in the information, the personal experience and touches? This is what people want and hunger for in their commercial transactions.  

* Use the mainstream economic system against itself: Making all one's purchases with credit cards and paying the monthly minimum is giving away your money and is economic suicide. Using credit cards with no annual fee and paying your balance off each month is using the bank's money for a month at no charge.

Pay small merchants in cash as this saves them the 4 to 6% transaction fee that they have to pay to the credit card company or their bank. Always pay cash to individuals as this saves them the delay of cashing checks and the growing practice of large banks like Bank of America or Wells Fargo to charge $5.00 or more, to non-customers to cash a check.

Learn what amount of income you can earn tax-free and work to just get up to that amount. This is approximately $600 per Month for an individual. The rest of one's needs can be met by barter and exchange of labor in certain areas with low expenses. Get off the economic treadmill or at least slow it down for yourself and others.

 

 Some of the honorable Skills of Poverty that can improve your life.

 

*Obtain things used as a first option before purchasing new:

Almost Every -Thing that one needs other than food, energy and services is probably sitting unused and unwanted somewhere, just taking up space in someone's home. Do them a favor by buying it from them for a modest price which not only provides them with much needed cash, but de-clutters their life, or accept it free or in exchange for some useful barter item you no longer actually need.

Conversely, if you haven't used something in the last year or so, seriously consider destining it to someone by the same means above. You probably have never regretted selling or giving away an item. Contrast that with the ongoing psychic and actual energy expended in moving, cleaning, and thinking about the clutter in your life. Consumerism is based on getting people to continually buy useless and near useless things that they don't need, as well as accept and embrace ideas that are destructive to the consumer of them and financially reward their seller.

There will always be people that mindlessly churn new debt and consume. Use them to your advantage. They can provide a steady stream of "last years model" to the used merchandise market. Getting the things that you actually need and use by the means above is even better than avoiding consumerism in the first place. Just giving things away to those who will use them is highly liberating and very subversive of the system because every item that is donated is potentially one less thing bought new and represents savings to the buyer and the giver in the form of a tax deduction thus keeping money in people's hands instead of sending it away to foreigners or Wall Street. No thrift stores in your area? Put useful things on TOP of the garbage can on trash day so that others can pick them up and use them.

The Achilles' heel of the above is the difficulty of locating or advertising these things. Craigslist, Freecycle and local bulletin boards are a good start. Thrift stores or secondhand shops are ideal for giveaways as they have the organizational ability to market the things to people that often rely heavily on them. A good thrift store with a healthy donor base can also provide one with practical clothing and most of the household items that one could need for pennies on the dollar. The key to using these is to determine where they are, if their typically accepted donations match your taste level and patrolling them often.

 

Localize your interests.

One can work for an extra month just to earn the after tax dollars to pay for a "vacation" which involves expensive parking at the airport and risking your life in an aluminum tube that flies halfway around the world or, you can save that month of work and just explore and do day trips of your own region, county or state sleeping in your own bed at night or staying in authentic local lodging. The post 9-11 airport strip-searches and associated unpleasantness have done wonders for this concept of late. Learn about your neighbors in the next town over. You probably have far more in common with them than you do with the staff of some resort in the tropics and if you discover that you share common interests, it's much easier to visit and work with them for the betterment of your area.

A positive benefit of this localized travel is that the place to which you are not vacationing will be that much more likely to not prostitute its economy and environment for the benefit of tourists and will be more likely to develop its own alternate economy based on the genuine needs of their residents.

 

Safety in numbers.

Assume a power blackout or natural disaster. Would you rather be a habitué of a Main Street environment whose storeowners you know and have maintained an ongoing relationship with over many years or be just another stranger in a large corporate mall where the security guards kick everybody out and lock the gates?  Think of this in the long term over a decade or a lifetime and you can see the advantages of these choices.

The corner grocer is more likely to keep an eye on your kids and report trouble to you than an imported minimum wage employee with no connection to the community except a cheap dormitory. When a guy that hangs out in a coffeehouse we frequent disappeared for days, someone took the trouble to go to his house and find out he was very sick. People looked out for him and brought him food until he was well. Don't expect that from a Walmart or a Starbucks in a mall.

Most of the above is just common sense that accrues to one the older and more experienced they get. Some people never get it though and end up leading atomized, boring and lonely lives. Their children and grandchildren will probably have instinctually rejected this kind of life and may be more likely to embrace the ideas contained herein.

 

Sharing

A simple concept that can allow people to either live well for far less work or live much better with the same income. Giving to a collective enterprise can produce a higher standard of living than just getting for oneself.

We checked our bookshelves and donated the high quality books that we hardly ever looked at to our nearby library*. It's satisfying to see the dozens of 'date due' stamps in the front of these books and realize that many others are enjoying them as much as we did.

 The same concept applies the things other than books. Berkeley, California and Portland, Oregon for example, have a tool lending "library" available for residents. This same kind of thing can be done in a neighborhood or among a group of friends.

There is a page on our site that describes how well people can live in a shared housing situation: Here is a link to that page.

 

How do you determine if a business is part of the alternate economy or not?

1. Just ask people in a business that you are investigating, "who owns this business?" "Is it owned and run by a family?"

The people working there will either be part of the family or will know the answer if it is. We've found that asking both these questions in a row puts people more at ease than just asking the first. If the people working there have no idea who owns it, that is a bad sign.

2. Look for a business license, resale license or health inspection report on the wall behind the cash register. Chains and corporations usually keep these in their headquarters. Note: "LLC" or "Incorporated" on the license is not necessarily bad as it may mean that the business is incorporated for the legal protection of the owners: for example: "Joe's Cafe LLC" or "Joe's Cafe Incorporated" is a lot different than "The Southland Corporation", the owners of 7-11 also known as Chevron.

3. If employees are open and cheerful and take the time, that is a good sign. Everyone gets tired sometimes but if they are sullen, hostile and you have to chase them down to get help, that is bad.

4. Reputation and longevity. If when you ask somebody about where there is a good place to eat or buy something in and they immediately tell you "Go to Joe's", that is a good sign. If you have to draw it out of them and they finally point you toward a shopping mall that is not a good sign.

 

 Some different examples of all The Alternative Economy in action:
On community cleanup days when large items may be discarded at the curb (and end up being crushed in a compactor truck and taken straight to the landfill), we drive around in our van and find all the building material we need for our gardening and remodeling purposes. We noticed a large amount of children's furniture and even clothing being discarded, often with nothing wrong with it. It occurred to us that the children's resale store nearby could resell it. The Cribs, dressers, art easels, toys and other things were donated to them and what the store didn't take we donated to the local thrift store. Let's categorize the economic advantages of this action to our community:
  • The resale store, a valuable resource for local parents to both buy, sell and trade outgrown and used items is kept in business and pays into the local tax base.
  • Her employee is kept in work. Fired from her corporate cubicle job she now has the time to with her family and even has time to volunteer at the library, since she no longer has the necessity working in the system to pay the after- tax expenses of car ownership, a long commute, dry-cleaning her business clothes etc.
  • Local parents get what they need for about 20% of the price they would pay at the corporate owned Pottery Barn/Gap/Costco/ToysRUs mall.
  • The items not suitable for commercial resale are donated to the thrift store and generate income for the parish and inexpensive items for the thrifty who shop there.

 

We had several diplomas and some of our child's artwork that we wanted framed. We gathered up the dozens of framed documents that we no longer wanted and those on our walls that we no longer even noticed anymore, as well as some artists' supplies sitting in a storeroom and traded them for the framing job. The frame shop obtained hundreds of dollars worth of unusual high quality frames and material that were of no use to us and we got our framing done with no money changing hands - and opened up more storage and wall space for ourselves.

Our friends in Los Angeles have old avocado and citrus trees in their yard that produce thousands of pounds of fruit a year. (yes thousands-not a typo) The whole family goes out and has a fun time bagging the fruit. Everywhere they go they give people fruit: the cleaners, coffee house, elementary school, the bus driver, to homeless veterans, at work, the bakery, movie theaters etc. A bag of organic fruit like that would cost about $40 at Whole Foods and people gratefully respond with thanks and sometimes "it's free" when it comes time to pay. An especially nice place to donate the fruit is at the rest-retirement-nursing home -corporate profit center-down the street. The folks there love the avocados and citrus far better than the industrial factory food they're forced to live on. What formerly rotted on the ground now becomes lots of goodwill and thousands of dollars of savings for everyone without raising the Gross National Product.

A curious aside: the people living next to our friends got wind of this and began bagging up their loquats and then taking them to the nearby market and trying to aggressively sell them with no success. Had they just skipped the monetization and given the fruit to people directly they might have obtained and given far more.

A friend was about to go out and buy deer fencing and posts at the Home Depot. We gave him the stakes and fencing that we anticipate using in a year or two from now in our garden. This prevented him from spending his money at the mall and emptied out our storage shed. He can replace the stakes when we need them-if we haven't effortlessly scrounged some more used ones, the same way we got the ones that we gave to him.

You can do this more formally with an "IOU in kind"-that is, you lend somebody some item with the understanding that they will replace it new or used or return it after a certain date.

A means of facilitating this is to make a "want list" and a "don't want list". Write down all the things that you think you will need in the next 6 months or so and on a separate sheet list all the things you have sitting around that you don't want and that don't lend themselves to resale or donation such as an opened bottle of liquor or box of soap that you don't like. Carry these lists with you and compare lists with people doing the same thing. We've done this and have obtained many-many things and have saved thousands of dollars. Besides Craigslist, there are a growing number of Freecycle groups.

Our local coffeehouse is a delightful place with worn comfortable chairs and most importantly, a quiet timeless atmosphere-Quiet being the operative word. Often the only sound is that of the refrigerator or a guy playing his guitar. Sometimes eclectic recorded music is played softly. The decor has naturally evolved over the years and includes lots of used books for sale or loan and many potted plants. The family that works there and the employees are easy going and cheerful. Every interaction with them is just that, an opportunity to talk about things that are happening in the neighborhood and the local school. Kids wander in and out and mix with adults of all ages. The place is so relaxed people sometimes fall asleep on the wicker couch.

You can get credit and run up a tab there if your paycheck hasn't come in yet. They serve pastries from a family owned bakery around the corner. The coffee is organic from a small boutique roaster. There is usually a vase of fresh flowers on the counter from their garden. There is a fruit box where people can drop off and pick up surplus items from their trees. The coffeehouse is used as a venue to showcase local artists, hold clothing swaps, leave messages and because of all the above, people are fiercely loyal to them and it's doing well financially.

Contrast this with the closest Starbucks. Everything is a commercial transaction designed to move money in one direction; Seattle Corporate Headquarters. There is the expectation that you'll get your product, finish it and make room for the next commercial transaction. The decor is straight out of a catalog with many instant faux Italian espresso bar touches and scores of institutional "20-minute chairs" (designed to be comfortable only that long). Company provided mood music is played on a custom player that will not play standard sized CDs-this to prevent the employees from daring to play their own music. The volume is fixed, no doubt loud enough to discourage people from lingering longer than the time it takes to finish a drink. Some people foil this by bringing their own cushion to make the chairs bearable and wear headphones to listen to their own music. Who says you have to buy anything to enjoy their seats, restroom and air conditioning? They want to be a community living room, that's the price they'll have to pay.

You have to admit that if you live in a small town that has nothing but dishwater coffee at a fast food place or a gas station, the opening of a Starbucks would be a huge improvement in the community. Of course after they build up the coffee taste level, it's time for some locals to open their own place as above.

 

Please send us examples of how you use the Alternate Economy. If they're unique we'll add them here.

 

Freeganism, a new term for dumpster diving for food, clothing and other things not because you're poor or desperate but because they are there!

 

E-Mail

 

Why those "Hippies" down at the Organic Grocery may your real friends:

My old Uncle Bob is slowly coming around to our way of thinking. Ex-Marine, Ex-paint salesman, Ex-workman, he is now a Expert on everything that's wrong with the country. After the last couple of years of spending money in an Australian themed corporate steakhouse and sitting on the benches at the Mall and watching his friends die of heart attacks, he is becoming disillusioned with the whole scene. There's a change in the air. If we can convince Uncle Bob of the wisdom of what we're doing, then we can convince anybody.

The first chink in his armor came when his Veteran's Benefits were reduced. "You mean I have to drive all the way to F* Fairfield to see a doctor!" That Son of a Bitch Bush! Why'd I vote for that lying sack of........." "Obama still hasn't done jack for us either".

Next was when we announced to him that the home cooking that he had been ravenously devouring at our house every Sunday was 100% Organic.

"I was wondering what you were putting in it" -"I mean, there's no manure in it is there?" A few explanations of the benefits of Organics followed by a couple of blind taste comparisons of Organic versus Safeway produce and prepared food convinced him. The final straw came when his 'club card' or whatever it's called didn't work and he was asked to fill out an all new application at the local corporate supermarket; he stomped out and drove to the alternate Organic market that we had repeatedly praised.

He began to shop there. We were dumbfounded. Totally out of place in his "members only" wind breaker, he actually made friends with the people that worked there and now he hangs out on the sunny tables in front of their store. When we asked him what motivated the change, he made some joke about cute girls and then he just came right out an said it: 

"You know those Hippies down there may be our real friends. The food's far better and I know their parents and I feel comfortable there. It's a real place."

 

 

 Some links about similar concepts on other sites:

 

What We Need to Know About the Corporate Takeover of the "Organic" Food Market

The Informal Economy: an article by a specialist on Post Communist Russia.

 

The American alternative currency: The Ithaca Hour

http://www.ithacahours.com.

 

Craigslist. The BEST way on the internet to list things for sale, barter, wanted, free or specialized services in most cities.

Look in the "For Sale" box dead center of the page: Here's the one for San Francisco.

Note different regions at top right.

 

Freecycle: Coming to your area? check it out here:

http://www.freecycle.org/

""The worldwide Freecycle™ Network is made up of many individual groups across the globe. It's a grassroots movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. Each local group is run by a local volunteer moderator (them's good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by clicking on the region on the right.

 

Sprawl Busters - an anti Big Box website:

Lots to see here: also, available are copies at cost of studies from various municipalities that have blocked Big Box Stores.

 

Redefining Progress- Just what are the good things and how do you count them?

 

Click here to tell a friend about The Overcoming Consumerism website 

or Please feel free to link your web pages to www.verdant.net

 

 

Return to the Overcoming Consumerism Index

 

 miscellaneous stuff:

 http://www3.plala.or.jp/mig/rgt-uk.html

http://www3.plala.or.jp/mig/will-uk.

http://www.geonewsletter.org/nola503.htm

htmlhttp://unpac.ca/economy/altmeasures.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

courtesy of Webcounter