The desire to hoard, to stash away, to buy what you can for yourself at the detriment of others is an unfortunate extension of the ‘winner takes most’ mentality on which capitalism is based.
A new kind of economics invites us to consider different ways of looking after our material needs – an economics of connectedness, of service, of recognition of the contribution of all who attend to our needs, and the many ways we serve the needs of others.
I’m looking at the pen I used to write the draft of this post. It was manufactured in Japan. Its nib is made of metal, which may have come from the Pilbara in the north-west of Australia, or from Mt Isa in Queensland, the US, Canada or Brazil. The plastic body is a petroleum based product, again possibly hailing from somewhere in Australia or perhaps from Russia, China, the North Sea or the Middle East.
I can start to consider all of the people who contributed skills and effort in the journey of the pen to me. The designer, the manufacturers in Japan and elsewhere, with all of their employees. The truck driver who drove it from the factory to the distribution centre or port. Those who worked on the ship or aircraft to load, transport and unload a cargo container in which my pen travelled in its tiny box. Those who created the tiny box as well. Finally, the retailer in the small shop in central Melbourne where I bought it.
At every step in this chain of activity, there were many contributors to the creation, transport and sale through individuals, organisations, and with the work of tools and engines and mechanisms, as well as all who were involved in the creation of those elements.
With this small object whose outflow of ink I enjoy so much and for which I paid such a modest sum, less than $A30, I have touched into a world of contributors. It’s quite astonishing to begin to picture them all. I can let myself feel connected to them through the pen I love. In their hundreds, even thousands, no doubt.
Connection. This is the underpinning of economics when we truly feel into the world of material goods and services and our payment for them. A connection, a global connection that this current crisis is forcing us to see and feel and understand.
Even now as I feel gratitude for this pen, I also treasure the last couple of toilet rolls that I could find in this time of shift and change. I understand the fear and the need for control that prompted the rush to buy for some people, but I also recognise that this ‘fear of missing out’ is a symptom of an economic system attuned to maximising individual needs rather than sensing our connection.
I trust that there will be enough, or that we can find ways to fulfill our needs and support each other in imaginative ways. I am optimistic too that the kind of economic principles that lead to our need to hoard, may shift towards something which allows us to realise that in our economic life, we can live in the truth of our dependent and interconnected relationship rather than feeling isolated as individuals fearing we may be deprived of what we need.
Especially at this time, I also have to work with my own distaste for focusing on finances, and choose something different, something caring. At this time of opportunity to create something new out of our situation, I aim to find trust and to take responsibility for my own role in this vast web of connectedness which is the true nature of our economic lives.
I am grateful for the work of thinkers and practitioners in economics like Katrin Kaüfer, Otto Scharmer, John Bloom and Rutger Bregman for the inspiration for this blog. The pen I used is a Pilot Kakuno fountain pen with an extra fine nib. Designed for children, the nib even features a smile.