No matter how you look at it, we cannot justify our current ratio of consumer spending to social spending. To state from the outset, we are purely talking about the moral implications of our society’s current priorities of wealth allocation and private spending. The issue is not that of spending money on those we love – naturally there is nothing wrong with that – the issue however is the ratio of private spending vs public spending. This is a truth that we are reluctant to admit.
The issue is not necessarily against having nice things, rather the scale of consumerist tendencies. We are principally concerned about the economic sin of Christmas. It could however be any holiday where the majority spends no small sum of money on a chiefly self-indulgent experience whilst lip-service is paid in small donations to assuage our collective guilt. What is the ratio of self-indulgent spending vs sociable spending?
The separation of our spending vs the consequences of our spending is the key issue. Christmas exemplifies the cultural practice of outwardly expressing care and concern whilst financially our heart is barely in it at all. The US gives $365 billion a year to charitable causes, yet $620 billion is spent on Christmas holidays alone. To spend approaching double the amount of personal luxury in 6 weeks as opposed to the entire year of reinvesting in society is pretty maddening.
In a culture that places such a high emphasis on pursuit of pleasure and the individual freedom to pursue that pleasure, our moral compass is rather skewed. Nearly all of us abstain from clear moral wrongs such as violence or theft, whereas the trickier ones to answer cause problems. Due to their intricate and difficult-to-perceive nature, such as where does my personal freedom end and the collective freedom of everyone else in the world but you, we tend to avoid and repress the moral questions.
It is imperative that we recognize the shortcomings of our society – too many of us tend to associate the amount we spend equating to how much we care. Showing how much we love our families and friends should not hinge upon how much me spend. The intricacy here is that the amount we collectively spend reflects how much we have had to work – therefore the more we spend, the more we have had to work, therefore the more we care. In a vacuum, this is admirable; however when , but if social problems continue to fester while we luxuriously fritter away our wealth, it is ethically reprehensible. As a representation of our love we are spending colossally excessive sums of money on showing it in the financial value of unnecessary, material things. Unnecessary in the sense that we practically never buy things that we genuinely, desperately need, rather we buy things that we would like, that we would derive pleasure in some way.
The main element of the problem is the economic value we place on this sizable fraction of the year spending vastly excessive sums of money whilst grave social problems continue to stagnate; what is stupefying is the sheer sum of money spent is so large that we could easily afford to take care of expensive social problems – essentially reinvesting the wealth into enriching society through education, social care, etc rather than letting the minority enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. Western society equates money with worth, whereas real value is separate to monetary value.
This boils down to a simple economic opportunity cost – the wealth and consumerism of the few comes at the great expense of society – the grand joke is that the minority can still have their luxury relative to the majority, but just at a much lower, yet still superior amount of wealth, luxury and status. Let the richest 1/3 have 2/3 of the wealth, a ratio like that our current as opposed to the 1% having 50%+ of collective wealth. The social consequences of this degree of difference is immense.
To the wealthy: have your wealth, have your status, but just tone it down a small fraction. Not drastically, just enough to have a healthy functioning society. It is in the power of the wealthy to fix all social problems; if society is run well and those with power do their jobs nobly, they can have their positions of power, but just not abuse them to sustain a system of inherent inequality and injustice.
The wealthy can still be relatively wealthier than the majority if must be, but just at a level that doesn’t result in major neglect of the rest of society and nature. So not even your basic right to earn excessive individual wealth is hindered, just absurdly excessive levels> If you must, have 50 or 100 or 200 times or more wealth than the average person, but just not thousands and hundreds of thousands of times. The majority’s wellbeing is reduced to an expense for the wealthy minority’s unnecessary wealth and status.
As for a solution? Perhaps there could be a Christmas tax of say even 10% – in the US that would be $65+ billion, enough to massively contribute to rectifying large-scale social injustice.