I was reading a bit about Jane Jacobs (via Byzantium's Shores) and something she said struck me as very true. It was the idea that another Depression is the one thing that must be avoided at all costs. And I think she's right, the scars of that time have not yet healed. Judging by how governments measure their country's health one gets the sense that the economy is far and away the unit of measurement. Fiscal weakness is to be avoided more than war, more than injustice; there is no sin greater than economic ruin.
I've wondered at the single-minded devotion to the economy and its origins but I never really appreciated how strongly affected people were by that period. Now, clearly, economics are one arena where the government's role is essential and economic success is obviously better than economic failure. What always tripped me up was the willingness to sacrifice so many things for just a sniff at a bit more money. The view that universities are high-end trade schools, the requirement of phrasing environmentalism in economic terms, the slow and steady creep of private healthcare, this is all fallout of following the golden calf of commerce. It's how the whispers of the self-interested corporations find purchase in the halls of power and their products are sold to public by the guardians of the public purse. I don't want to come across as underestimating the value of a strong economy but there are things I would trade it for. I fear we have come to overvalue it.
When stockholders hold sway over our elected officials, when they become another branch of government, one could argue my power is diminished. Well, I'm trying to take that power back. I am priviliged enough that I'm not forced to squeeze every last drop out of every last dime. I can choose to buy a hybrid car though it costs me and my family dearly. It was a hard sell convincing my wife that the crazy high monthly payment was worth it. It's a little easier to live with now that gas prices are so high. We don't live as luxurious a life as we would without it but we aren't exactly hurting either. The clincher on such a purchase is that it tells companies that some people are willing to pay a little more to be a little more environmentally friendly. We expect companies to take a hit in the wallet for any given cause be it labour, environmental or social but ask a consumer to do the same and they will run screaming.
This is the new democracy. Every dollar spent is a vote. If the corporations want to tell us how to live, then I'll vote for the corporations whose message I agree with. I buy whatever I can at MEC. I think their economic model is awesome. Clothes, equipment, tools, whatever. I'll gladly pay a small premium (they really aren't THAT much more expensive) to support their corporate philosophy. I try to buy organic where it isn't prohibitive. I avoid the nastiest companies (they're all fairly nasty on some level) whenever possible. It takes time to do the research, it takes disposable income to pay the cost difference (though it can sometimes be refreshingly cheaper) but I am in a position to do these things to make the best possible choices with each dollar spent, to build a society with my spending habits.