Driving through Arizona’s nature, I begin to understand something about the American consumerism.
About the rumor of the American Dream:
First of all, this country is big. Very big. It seems everything is available in masses. And I am not talking about the filled shelves in the supermarkets, I am talking about the nature. Endless forest, long rivers, huge mountains, wide desert ... and still everywhere you "go", it is touristic. On the other hand, it seems that if you just walk away from the street, you will find wild and dangerous wild-life, far away the from plastic eagles sold on the sidewalk, standing there for tourists to take pictures with.
The United States of America already built something we still have trouble with in Europe. Any state in USA is united by the fact that its people see themselves as Americans. This sounds very simple according to the fact that this is one country. But actually it is not: I repeat. It’s a huge and empty country!
(Something which is important to me never to forget and/or to determine: Of course this is also owed to the fact, that the first settlers after Columbus did a pretty neat job clearing this county from its original indeginous people - a harmful people killing, which is way too underestimated in my opinion.)
Amercian people today, from East- to Westcoast, understood to supply each other with goods from their region. And different than in Europe, this does not happen on the base of trade agreements, which put one country in a superior position in relation to another. This exchange of goods happens because all American people of one country benefit from it. From West- to Eastcoast, covering a huge region of this rich and diverse country - all of the people feel themselves as Americans, no matter how different their lifestyle is. (Leaving out: Indian Reservats)
Today American states seem pretty united by their national pride. And according to their nature they have a lot of everything. There is no little forest with a little bit of wood, there is a big forest with a lot of wood. Cotton fields in the states are as big as nowhere else in the world. It‘s simply possible to grow, produce and buy in masses due to space. Seeing this, it becomes natural to think big with nearly any other product as well. If you make donuts for California, isn't it just fair to make them for New York, too? And being able to make them in California and to bring them to New York, why not make them for the rest of the world also?
So another point: it seems Americans are used to diversity in working. Adam Smith introduced this kind of work force, making productions scaleable and more time efficant. Americans, as a relatively small population in a huge and therefore empty country see consumption as a good thing. It is there. Unused. So let‘s use it! The farmer in Kentucky needs to sell his crops anyways. Eat, shop, buy, consume BIG, otherwise it stays unused!
To me this a very new perspective. Because so far, I have judged the consumption behavior of Americans very harshly. I thought it is all about wasting: buying and throwing away too easily, not seeing value.
Now I start understanding that their way of living actually makes sense in their country: It is waste if you don‘t consume it.
The problem with this is that Americans tend to expect, that the rest of the world is able to produce and consume in the same way. This seems to be true for the consuming part in Europe, but not for the production.
Europe lacks the space and the United States lack the people/workers. Countries like in India must have appeared to Americans and American companies as having an endless supply of workers: America, a huge country with few people and a lot of land. India, a huge country crowed by people begging for work.
What happens is that companies outsource labour, still using their own resources. Because of different cultures and economic situations, this relation started with a big gap of expectation and developed into a twisted system about valuing labour:
Labour, performed by humans, does not stand in relation to the value. And the availabity of resources does not stand in relation to the value of the land anymore. Especially when you don’t see it. It is far away at unknow places they call “third-world-country”.
The unemployment rate in the States is very high, but finding jobs that people would like to work in, is hard. Bringing actual production like sewing back to the country is too expensive. Paying an American worker in a way that he can live of his wage in America, would make a t-shirt incredibly expensive and couldn't compete with the ones made outside the States.
Bad payment for the labor force in these “third-world coutries” developed with globalization and overrating the impotance of the economic growth of a country. This correlated with the western approach, that a good businessman tries to negotiate the prices for production to a minimum. So people from diffrent cultures, living with a different standard of consumption, with lower expenses for food and housing, did not ask for more. Moreover, in the western world, this was depicted as an act of support to the development of third-world-countries with a little bit of money for some work - it was stated, that without mass productions for western businesses, these people would have no work at all.
Now imagine none of this would be true and the lifestyle of these “third-world-countries” is so poor, only because they didn't have the opportunity to develop a different style of consumption. While these countries were producing goods for other (western) countries with their labor force, they didn‘t become richer, but only busier. The people in the “first world” in contrary, became less busy, but richer, because they had to spend less money for the goods they consumed.
No matter what, it comes down to the following: Clothes are too cheap, being produced by workers in low income states. That makes people in the States consume for too little money and therefore too much and too fast.
For me being the first time in the USA, visiting my sister and getting in contact with the culture in their country, I very quickly got the feeling that everything seemed endless and available in masses in this huge country. But this feeling doesn‘t reflect the reality of the scarcity of resources we live with on this planet.
It gives you a wrong image and makes you block out what it is like to live in India in a slum. Or what it is like in China, more developed, but crowded with people. The USA is missing work-force. They outsourced because such few people live in such a big country.
In my opinion this is the turning point: If the USA was able to bring back the production of their companies to their own soil, prices of labour-based goods like clothes would change. This would have an enormous impact on consumerism, expectations and value of products to the Americans. People in the States would simply get in touch with added value.
It could be as simple as that. In Europe you cannot argue that easily. Countries are too small, cultures and environments are too different to care for themselves. If Germany brings back their own production in clothes, they still would face problems like not having the right weather to grow cotton for instance. Turkey, however, does have the right climate.
It comes back to where I started: It’s awesome that the USA has used their land for the growth of resources in the way they did. This bears an incredibly huge potential to make a change for the better! The USA has the power to make big changes with very little effort. This is very different from Europe that will change very little by a high effort on communicating between diffrent nations, cultures and languages.
So if I can make a wish, and I will for the end of 2017, that one day, economy, consumerism, culture and global trade change so much, that the value of labour gets back in balance with the value of nature-based resources. A world where all of us become united by understanding values and produce and supply for each other: one valuing the wood from someone's forest as someone else is valuing the work of sewing clothes. Then this world would be a better place, a place I would love to experience in my lifetime.