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Can 30% of us drag the rest into the post-industrial age? - click opera
February 2010
 
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Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 12:14 pm
Can 30% of us drag the rest into the post-industrial age?

I'm a post-materialist. Are you? Let's look at the Wikipedia definition:

"Post-materialism is an economic philosophy that emphasizes quality of life and environmental sustainability issues instead of earning income and material possessions."

I have a slight problem with that wording; what kind of economic philosophy rejects economic criteria? Surely this is a post-economic philosophy? Anyway, let's continue:

"Post-materialists give high priority to values such as more citizen input in government decisions, the ideal of a society based on ideas instead of money, and maintaining a clean and healthy environment, rather than to values associated with the philosophy of materialism such as economic growth, a strong national defense, and "law and order"."

This brings in the idea of the "new economy" people talked about in the 90s, where attention was going to be more important than money. It brings in ecology, and it maps post-materialism to a tender-minded left wing perspective.

"The term "post-materialism" was coined by the political scientist Ronald Inglehart in 1970."

Aha, at the peak of the hippy era! So post-materialists are hippies, or their descendants, the New Agers?

"One of his main hypotheses was that people place their highest interest in things they were relatively deprived of in their youth. Therefore, Inglehart argued that people growing up after the Second World War would generally have a more post-materialist value orientation than people growing up before, because they were not raised in times of material deprivation."

Wait, so we were deprived of deprivation? That gets confusing!

"This hypothesis would imply that the whole of society should grow more post-materialist over time. This has not yet turned out to be the case; in countries with a relatively high level of post-materialism such as The Netherlands or Sweden, the proportion of post-materialists in society hasn't even grown higher than 30 percent, and during some years declined. Still, the concept of post-materialism can be usefully related to libertarianism, (anti-)authoritarianism, egalitarianism, and party preference."

I'm interested in the 30% figure. Richard Florida has estimated that his beloved "creative class" is 30% (and growing) of the US working population:

"The creative class now includes some 38.3 million Americans, roughly 30 percent of the entire U.S. workforce---up from just 10 percent at the turn of the 20th century and less than 20 percent as recently as 1980. The creative class has considerable economic power. In 1999, the average salary for a member of the creative class was nearly $50,000 ($48,752), compared to roughly $28,000 for a working-class member and $22,000 for a service-class worker. Not surprisingly, regions that have large numbers of creative class members are also some of the most affluent and growing."

An article in Metropolis (Japan) about Japan's bureoning LOHAS ("lifestyles of health and sustainability", or Slow Life) phenomenon says that surveys show 25.3% of Japanese consumers qualify as "LOHAS" types, when asked about their involvement in environmentalism, health, social issues and spirituality, with an additional 34% sympathetic to the same views, but unwilling to spend extra on fair trade or slow life products.

So, a picture is emerging of a few nations with a post-materialist class of around 30% of the population: Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands, perhaps Germany. What about America? Well, according to Metropolis that's where LOHAS started:

"The LOHAS concept is the brainchild of US sociologist Paul Ray and psychologist Sherry Anderson, co-authors of The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World. The popular book, first published in 2000, identified a disparate US subculture with common concerns for such issues as the environment, well-being and social justice. The authors aimed to help these so-called “cultural creatives” unite, and in doing so they pegged a consumer demographic ripe for the picking."

Two warning bells ring for me there: one, the publication date, 2000. This book might belong more to a "record surplus, dot com boom" 1990s mindset than the post-9/11 paranoia-security-war mindset we live with now. Secondly, rather than a "subculture", this might just be a "consumer demographic". But in a market-led world, consumer choices matter, right?

Let's paint a bigger picture. The human world is at a turning point. We've benefitted enormously from industrialization, but we've inflicted serious damage on the planet in the process. What's more, some of us have discovered that, although a little money makes you a lot happier, a lot of money only makes a little difference. As we've seen before on this blog, studies show that there's an optimal annual income of about $20,000 beyond which more money doesn't make anyone significantly happier.

One view of this 30%, then, is that it's an emerging post-industrial class (call it "creative class" or "cultural creatives" or "post-materialist class", or what you like), and that, as more and more people get over material values, and more and more economies switch over to information and culture rather than production, this class will grow. Another thing that will make the class grow is the increasing evidence that the world has been damaged by industrialization, and that our priorities have been wrong.

This suggests that economic developments and climate change will only make this class more powerful. And there is evidence of that; enviro-politicians like Al Gore and David Cameron are, at this moment, limbering up, convinced there are election-winning votes in sustainability. Modern national elections can be won with percentages of around 40%, so getting our 30% of post-materialists on board could be crucial.

In my Wired article Japan Grows a Beard I wrote:

"Perhaps Japan's young "free spirits," together with the older, more affluent Slow Lifers, have something in common with the "tree-huggers, organic fructarians, solar-powered scooter riders, water-birth enthusiasts, Tantric-sex practitioners, world-music listeners, teepee dwellers, hemp-trouser wearers and Ayurvedic massage addicts" described in "A Brief History of Cranks," an excellent essay by Paul Laity in the current issue of Cabinet magazine. But, as Laity says, "Environmentalism is increasingly the cause rather than an eccentric distraction from it ... we are all sandal wearers now."

But are we all sandal-wearers now? Or only 30% of us? And what if we lose this battle to bring the world, presumably following us admiringly, into a post-materialist garden of Eden? What, in other words, if climate change produces nightmarish resource war, or what if post-materialism is simply an illusory consolation for outmoded Westerners as actual production shifts to China?

There are attacks on the post-materialist mindset from all directions.

"A century ago," writes James Woudhuysen, "Britain had ‘gas-and-water’ municipal socialists, whose most radical gesture was to take the supply of local household utilities into public ownership. Today we have spatial-cultural determinists, who believe that giving a spatial twist to artistic, recreational and educational pursuits is the key to urban regeneration and, more than that, economic revival. They miss the point. In 2005 you cannot, as economic professor Richard Florida famously has suggested, squeeze urban competitive advantage on the world economy through getting a diverse ‘creative class' to dynamise a city through its ideas. This gets the direction of causality entirely wrong. A city becomes prosperous because of the size and productivity of all its economic sectors. A city's fate depends also, quite obviously, on the performance of the national economy that surrounds it. To devote so much effort to one rather small and indistinct sector – creative and cultural industries – is to push water uphill. It is a habit that does little for local living standards, and instead only flatters urban planners. Do we really believe that a museum district will shower riches on local inhabitants? Or is what happens in workplaces the more central determinant of urban regeneration?"

There you go: the argument that there's no post-industrial economy on the way. That only old-fashioned industry (or financial services) can regenerate cities, and that old-fashioned gas-and-water socialism is needed to offset its excesses, rather than green and cultural politics.

It's often this development argument, coupled with rhetorical appeals to industrial era socialist concepts, which people make when they want to hit the 30% where it hurts. Why should people in developing countries listen to you, hippies, when you say that a wealth you've already attained isn't the right goal? Why kick away the ladder?

To answer this sort of argument, ambitious schemes have been devised. Carbon trading or offsetting and energy rationing schemes, for instance, reward the poor by imposing energy taxes on those whose eco-footprint over-reaches. The other side rejects these as "middle class guilt":

"I'm really unsure about these schemes," says Grimly Fiendish in an I Love Everything thread about enviro-guilt. "I mean, they're a good idea at heart, but the whole thing seems in danger of becoming a dreadful middle-class get-out clause: "Oh, I can afford to drive to work now without any guilt because someone somewhere is planting a tree."

This guilt-by-association reaction is a major problem; it seems the conscientious 30% are very unpopular with everyone else, partly, no doubt, because they're more affluent, but also because they occupy high moral ground. A BBC Radio 4 Moral Maze debate about climate change, for instance, saw Easyjet corporate affairs director Toby Nichol saying:

"There's been a fairly fundamental swing, it could co-incide with David Cameron talking about green issues more than they were talked about before. I think it could co-incide with a slightly middle class, post-materialist world. We don't see this debate in Germany, where unemployment is five million, we certainly don't see this debate in the accession European countries, Poland etc, where people have seen the benefits of aviation. In that sense it's a post-materialist, slightly guilty middle class perspective." (He was later corrected on the point about Germany, where of course there's a significant and influential Green movement, though it only gets 8.1% of the national vote. It has, though, been quite successful in pushing the essentially post-materialist argument that what has traditionally been called industrial policy should instead be renamed and pursued as environmental policy.)

Both sides of this argument use the poor to justify their positions. The industrial developers say we should learn from what the poor want to become (as rich as us... so doesn't that just mean "We should learn from us"?), whereas the post-industrial deconstructionists (they want to dismantle the system from within, using their middle-class guilt) say we should learn from what the poor actually are right now (model low-to-no consumers with slim environmental footprints).

But, as Jonathan Porritt, Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, says in the Moral Maze programme, it won't do to assume that the future belongs to those who don't give a damn about the environment, or that the nation currently growing fastest in material production is disregarding the environment (Bush's argument for not ratifying Kyoto): "The political class in China," Porritt says, "is much more focused on issues of climate change than most governments in Western Europe."

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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 10:51 am (UTC)

Okay, I can go with that. I'm equating "economics" with "money". In terms of this definition, I'm on 2 and you're on 1.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 11:18 am (UTC)

Of course, there are arguments against environmental sustainability, but these are basically politically motivated arguments against the future of the human race. There really seems to be no getting away from this fact.

It is actually imperative for humans to get beyond an obsession with money and material possession. We adapt or we die.

And of course, this means a shift to spiritual values, or, if you object to the word 'spiritual', then 'humanist' will have to do for now.

There are reasons to be very scared. But there are also reasons to hope.

Al Gore's film has been predicted to make a big impact in the States:

In China, Dongtan is being designed and built as a sustainable city.

These are small reasons for hope, but we must hope, and we must support those reasons. I do believe that these are just the beginning of what will be a great wave of environmental concern and disillusionment with industrial materialism.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 12:02 pm (UTC)
My feeling on real/intellectual property

I once had it all, the partner, the mortgage, the appliances, the matching decor, and I was not happy! I had been trained all my life for this moment, I was 40 years old, I did everything they told me to, and I still was not happy.

I gave up the mortgage, I rent now, because I am not willing to own real property in the U.S. I gave up the appliances, too, because they took up too much space on my shelf (I still have a fridge and toaster oven).

How can anyone be happy without the shopping mall, in America? Especially if they have no money?

My feeling is that the sooner poor people in America learn to exploit the intellectual property laws at their fingertips, they can gain power in this country. I guess I'm dreaming, but when I go to http://uspto.gov/ , I find I can trademark any little term I like (if the mark is still unregistered).

Another facet of 21st c. America that may help poor people is the extent to which anyone can be an artist, and, if they're smart, make some dough, using tools that can be downloaded for free off the net. Publishing companies can be circumvented. Anyone can get their art out there, anyone can get on LiveJournal and prattle about their ideas, and anyone, if so inclined, can make money doing so.

I'm willing to be an intellectual property baron if that's what it takes to get power in the U.S. today. But I'll skip the real property and chattel; that stuff weighs me down.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 01:43 pm (UTC)
Re: My feeling on real/intellectual property

Is it possible, in your mind, that it could make another person quite well happy but not for reasons of selfish complacency? *_*


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la_aquarius
la_aquarius
Chris
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 12:03 pm (UTC)

You might find this interesting:

UK, Calif. to strike global warming deal

Obviously, a big chunk of America's creative class lives in California. I always think of us as a separate nation (taken as a separate economic entity, California's GDP ranks as about #5 in the world, I think), so it's nice to see us bypassing Bush's silly rejection of the Kyoto protocols.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 12:15 pm (UTC)
thanks for the cite, la aquarius

<< Tony Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plan to lay the groundwork for a new trans-Atlantic market in carbon dioxide emissions... Such a move could help California cut carbon dioxide... President Bush has rejected the idea of ordering such cuts. >>

I am so proud of Arnie! Leapfrogging right over Bush when needed! I am proud to be in Oakland, Calif!


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bongo_kong
bongo_kong
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 12:13 pm (UTC)

$20,000 wouldn't go too far if prices reflected environmentally friendly production and fair labour rates. I can't help thinking that if goods in the shops had a value based on sustainability then we'd probably all end up working harder than ever. I'm not arguing against sustainable enoconimies, just that the creative 30% you mentioned would need to do without some of the comforts like ipods, laptops, midi instruments etc that are taken for granted.


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mcfnord
mcfnord
shoop
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC)

i read about a group whose members agree to never buy new stuff (excepting safety, medical, and food). the idea has been on my mind. my life and society are saturated with stuff. i spend more time trying to get rid of stuff than i do aquiring new stuff. alright, perhaps i get excited by aquiring new stuff and just annoyed with discarding, like, "i need to get rid of this reminder of what i thought would be cool but wasn't."

recently i got a cool canvas camping chair new for seven dollars. the workmanship is alright. the price seems crazy-low. certainly it's chinese work. many prominent economists believe our import-export deficit is setting America up to fall as an economic power. so in a way our lifestyle of new material stuff is setting us up for a great deal of pain.

ipods all say "designed in california. assembled in china." implied in this is that America creates good ideas, and China builds them. it's not clear if good ideas are a sufficient export to offset our affinity for physical stuff. i don't own an ipod. i want to some day, if it's integrated into my phone, or if it's free.

my laptop is the oldest, cheapest one that runs fast enough. when i was very poor, i would buy many of the same model, and use the parts to keep one running.

i recently bought a stand-up motor scooter, even though they're illegal on public roads. i'm not sure how i feel about this. perhaps i was getting depressed and deluded, thinking i'd zip up to yoga on the backstreets, and thereby be better off. it's not a car, but it's not a bike, either. the sinister heart of materialism might be its seduction of our good but lazy intentions, and our love if shiney things.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 12:48 pm (UTC)

I don't buy the creative class concept - New York City and San Francisco are doing just fine without any creative people living there. Well, replace "creative" with "talented" - there are plenty of 20-somethings who create profound art without the whole, you know, hardship thing.


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rroland
rroland
rroland
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)

you cut me


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC)
Taking the physical perspective

Interesting post, regarding the question where we are going - it remains to be seen. But if I read this (http://physicsweb.org/articles/news/10/6/16/1) correctly, according to Mr. Hawking we seem to be living in the best of all possible worlds...if I read this correctly.

Christian


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Taking the physical perspective

<< While this idea sounds fantastic, it is based on Richard Feynman’s "sum over paths" formulation in quantum theory, which says that the probability that a photon, say, arrives at a particular place can be calculated by summing up over all the different possible trajectories of the photon. Although the photon could follow lots of different paths, the straight-line path dominates over all the others so this is the one we see. In the same way, Hawking and Hertog say that the universe did not take just one path through time to arrive in its present state, but took a multitude of paths, or histories. The "sum over all histories" is therefore the universe we observe today. >>

How can I use this to get into the future?

Maybe the secret to the future is not the straight-line path, but the less probable trajectory. My future ten minutes holds x, y, and z, I'm pretty sure. But can I hop another trajectory, then look back at the straight-line from the future?

All this physics talk makes me silly!


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 01:46 pm (UTC)

Are you suffused with middle-class guilt? Or are you not middle class....Oh man, these terms are confusing and somewhat condescending, I think.
As though a person can be pegged by exactly how many thousands (or millions) of dollars they make than someone else, or some "average".
But still, we can never forget human nature, and that what comes with it is the power of incentives.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 01:55 pm (UTC)

Also, I roll my eyes at "water births" and New Age things like that.
We can be environmentalists without being nutbags. But I realize that you weren't saying that in the mode of condoning it, just pointing out a certain association with it all. Man, I'm inarticulate this morning.


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fugitivemotel
fugitivemotel
Make Music Not Friends
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)

You (and a lot of the people you've cited) seem to be suggesting that materialism and creativity are somehow mutually exclusive concepts. Why should this be? Why shouldn't an artist want to be rich? Why shouldn't an oil tycoon enjoy art? As philosophies these terms might work, but as descriptions of actual groups of people I think they're idealistic and simplistic.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC)

They are mutually exclusive concepts - you can go back thousands of years and read people talking about insight and the deprivation of worldly comfort. Who knows why it is, but it's been true for thousands of years, and is probably still true today.

There's nothing wrong with being rich, but don't you notice that a good deal of artists, comedians, musicians, etc. begin to royally suck after they've become comfortable, successful, and settled down? It's not always the case, but you know. Maybe there's a better sociobiological explanation (bleh).

It's probably different for visual art - an ugly orange cup and patterns of lines don't involve much thought - I'm sorry, but they don't. So maybe that's why there are so many successful trustfund artists and writers, many who've neither had to struggle, nor create art that's beyond flashy.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC)

What I find hilarious is that Momus thinks he's above all the materialsm because of the way he lives. What a joke!

I say that not only isn't Momus anti-materialist, he EMBODIES materialsm by the way he lives. Do you think that the average salaryman can jet set around the world, putting out a virtually unheard album every so often whenever the gravy train dries up? And how many worker bees does it take to support one art leech?

Could it be that Momus is just as materialist as the middle manager with his McMansion and 50" television -- only, instead of material things, Momus lusts after a life of indolence (and Asian ass).

If we all worked half as much, could Momus afford not to work?


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 05:43 pm (UTC)

<< instead of material things, Momus lusts after a life of indolence (and Asian ass) >>

What more to live for than indolence suffused with art and physical enjoyment? I'd say Momus has it figured out.

How do you spend your time, M. Anonymous?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 09:13 pm (UTC)

So do you believe in the immaterial world?


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 09:54 pm (UTC)
sweetheart contract

"Both sides of this argument use the poor to justify their positions"

I was going to read this
but i think i will read this.


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rroland
rroland
rroland
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)
Re: sweetheart contract

thanks Raymond, I'm going to pick them both up as soon as I get enough scrill


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Mon, Jul. 31st, 2006 11:22 pm (UTC)

Fair trade products are terrible. It encourages the native people that produce coffee and chocolate to do more producing, which puts a strain on the earth in terms of growing the crops, moving them and storing them. All these things take resources.

I never buy or support fair trade, if it's at all possible. I also do not like it when poor countries get money; it just encourages them to keep being poor!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 1st, 2006 12:23 am (UTC)

The Maya Gold chocolate bars have a story inside the wrapper about how fair trade has benefitted the communities that supply them with cocoa beans. Essentially, what's happened is that the children of these families have now moved away from home to attend a school and they all have greater access to medication. In other words: the family unit is being degraded and vitality is being weakened through suppression with drugs. Another name for it might be eithical colonialism.


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instant_c
instant_c
Tue, Aug. 1st, 2006 01:16 am (UTC)
Us poor US

I find that a large number of poor in the US are amongst the highest consumers, not by dollar amount obviously, but culturally. This seems to be why stores like Walmart, etc do so well. The poor work there, shop there, buy as much junk as they can afford(lots of little things) and put the cash right back into their employers pockets with no thought of elective affinities. Survival sometimes leads to an overabundance of cheap crap. For example,I myself dont have a car(or want one), nor could really afford one even though I have a decent day job and no dependants. I do see very often those who get paid minimum wage or worse with dependants owning a car or two. It's all about debt spending, eh? It sometimes makes me dizzy!


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desant012
||||||||||
Tue, Aug. 1st, 2006 01:45 am (UTC)
Re: Us poor US

It's true - people from poorer backgrounds often have more of a fatalistic point of view, and materialism is the product of fatalism.

Whereas uhh ... people with more solid, grounded backgrounds are taught how to manage and budget money, making it possible to live a "post-materialist" life. The money you save from not owning a car and wearing secondhand, but nice clothing makes being a spaced-out writer (musician, artist, whatever) a sustainable lifestyle with a good, relaxed dayjob.


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sweetnessss
sweetnessss
sweetness
Tue, Aug. 1st, 2006 11:05 am (UTC)

cows and windmills


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