Less is better?

I'm just back from our regular Tuesday market at Poolewe. Pictures and Poems does consistently well there, and this year's take is significantly ahead of 2009. However the talk was all about this so-called 'recession' and how it is affecting business up here - even the kind of micro businesses with a presence at our village hall market. Market visitor numbers this year are beyond doubt down on last but the more important fact is that each person through the door is spending less and giving much more thought to each of their purchases. All the work we put in over the winter on our product portfolio - weeding out the slow-movers and creating new stuff, and creating more effective merchandising on our stall - is now seen to be saving our bacon, at least in the markets.

On the other hand we sell to some 50 shops up and down Wester-Ross and our sales through these shops are definitely well below last year. The scuttlebutt from our retailer friends is almost universally filled with those bad old negative vibes.

I just looked up a blog I wrote a couple of years back. I said then that we were not entering a recession, nor the depression spoken of by some financial journalists; this was instead simply the beginning of a massive re-alignment. The days of continuous - even automatic growth in the economy, of borrowing by State and individual, of increasing personal prosperity however dubiously based - well, I wrote, these days were over. As the resources of our planet became scarcer and more expensive, as the multitudes in Asia and Africa and South America demanded and obtained a greater and greater share of them, as the sheer numbers of people rocketted upwards, each of us in the West would need to learn how to live on less. More than this, and much more importantly, each of us would have to learn how to live happily on less. Human happiness, I wrote, is not a derivative of wealth, and neither is the reverse the truth.

Of course this was as suspect two years ago as must be all such generalised prognoses - even the ones churned out by governments to assuage the concerns of we, the masses. Some will carry on getting richer and some will continue to fail. But by and large I do not and will not believe that, as a whole, our grandchildren will be better off in terms of owning more things and consuming more than are we today. On the other hand I do fervently hope that they will be happier with the status quo, having found more sensible ways of living their lives than in the constant and overwhelming pursuit of Mammon.

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