Opinion: Wants and needs - our insatiable desire to shop

Kmart Petone opened on June 1. Blenheim is to get its own Kmart by Christmas 2018.

Kmart Petone opened on June 1. Blenheim is to get its own Kmart by Christmas 2018.

Opinion: News that yet another mega store is to come to Blenheim did not thrill me. To the contrary, I groaned.

But it did thrill others judging by reactions. People were hysterically ecstatic, "thrilled" and "excited" at the "great news". 

Frankly to me the welcoming reaction to yet another mega-store is symptomatic of a society addicted to consumerism - and rampant consumerism at that.

We live in a time of absurdly cheap consumer goods, of continual sales and bargains and a dominance by big shopping chains and franchises. Witness the traditional Boxing Day sales where people queue, jostle and at times fight to get their hands on a "bargain".

*Kmart is coming to Blenheim
*Kmart to create 60 jobs in Marlborough
*Can you pick which of these homewares is from Kmart?
*What's with our Kmart obsession?
*Hundreds queue for new Petone Kmart

In the same breath society is told of funding shortages for hospitals, hospices, schools and public transport. We are told of the need to pursue growth. We are told we need more people to create demand. It is more and more, growth and more growth and like a dog chasing its tail, it never succeeds.

Western countries are in "the grip of a collective psychological disorder" is how authors Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss put it in their book Affluenza. In a "society surrounded by affluence, we indulge in the illusion we are deprived – the epidemic of over-consumption that pervades rich societies has been dubbed affluenza."

One psychotherapist gave a clinical definition of the condition. "The collective addictions, character flaws, psychological wounds, neuroses and behavioural disorders caused or exacerbated by the presence or desire for money/wealth in individuals, it takes the form of a dysfunctional or unhealthy relationship with money, regardless of one's socioeconomic level."

Affluenza is in essence, a confusion which arises because people fail to distinguish between wants and needs. The neo-liberal philosophy that arose with Rogernomics of the Lange Labour government in the 1980s were about maximising growth of income and consumption of goods. It was an injection of greed into a society that was previously contented and relatively unstressed.

It in turn gave rise to longer working hours, the erosion of the basic income needed to run a family household with the consequence of both parents working and society experiencing increased stress levels. Society suffered. Irrational behaviour became commonplace manifesting itself in a lack of common courtesy, aggressiveness, selfishness and anger fits such as "road rage" emerging.

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In the context of Blenheim, what effect will the mega store Kmart going to the outskirts of Blenheim have? Undoubtedly it will shift the consumer's attention to Westwood arguably to the detriment of retailers – many locally owned – in the central business area of the town. Locally owned retailers will no doubt suffer. Because of the effect of a mega-store and its wide variety of goods plus its ability to provide free parking compared to the CBD with parking meters, shoppers will gravitate to outlying shopping areas as Kmart will provide.

How will the Marlborough District Council counter the draining effect on the CBD?

Will it continue its revenue gathering via meters thus providing a disincentive for shoppers to go central when they can go westwards without draconian parking charges and zealous meter policing?

The ramifications of affluenza and the rise of mega-shops go national too. Most of the goods are because of neo-liberal policies and a flood of cheap imported goods from Southeast Asia, India and other countries.

Consequently New Zealand's manufacturing resource languishes unable to compete with countries of origin cheap wages in those countries and the resulting bargain-bin prices. I can buy a carpentry saw for $12 or so, made in Southeast Asia. But how many saws do I need?

Personally I would rather buy a "well made New Zealand" saw for $30. Umbrellas are less than $10 – made in China. How many umbrellas do I need? I would rather pay $40 for a "well made New Zealand" one and thereby support local industry and lessen the country's spending on unnecessary imports.

That's why free trade agreements with countries such as China only force New Zealand to import more cheaply produced, often inferior goods for the consumer to drool over and snatch up and to the detriment of New Zealand's manufacturing sector.

A country's economy revolves very much around exports and imports. My very basic understanding is that exports are income, imports expenditure. New Zealand strives to export, branding itself as clean and green in an endeavour to appeal to the affluent overseas consumer.

But cheaply produced imports flood in with no control under neoliberalism. The result is New Zealand frequently operates with a deficit, i.e. loss - more import costs than export earnings. It just doesn't make sense whether we consider Marlborough's perspective or New Zealand's.

The Kmart coming is just symptomatic of the 'affluenza addiction'.

Tony Orman is a Marlborough-based freelance journalist

 - The Marlborough Express


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