Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

at

From top: Christmas shopping in Grafton Street, Dublin 2; Dan Boyle

Throughout my adult life I’ve moved house no more than half a dozen times. I’ve never enjoyed the experience. Outside of the effort involved there is something almost soul destroying in seeing your life reduced to a number of boxes. An occasional smile is given on finding a photo, a newspaper clipping or a well thumbed much read book, but mostly the content of the boxes often ask more questions than they answer.

The most obvious question is why? Why have I acquired so much along the way, so much that doesn’t seem to have any ongoing value? As I get older the longest and slowest lesson I’ve had to learn is that doing things is worth far more than owning things.

It’s a well worn and excessively used cliché that money doesn’t buy happiness. It sadly remains a philosophy that still informs how economies are structured and how they are seen as being successful.

At this supposed time of human achievement it seems we have been reduced to ‘we are what we buy’. A strong economy cannot exist, we are told, unless we consume and continue to consume. We are mere economic actors whose job it is to push economic activity further and higher.

All this results of in is clutter. We are the box fillers of the future. For as long as economic success is determined as how much we buy, then ultimately what satisfies us will be subject to diminishing returns.

In today’s global economy that only thing we can be certain that money buys us is other money, in other words debt. This is the ultimate paradox of modern life. We buy so much that we don’t need on the basis of wealth that we don’t properly define, wealth that in reality is borrowed from the future. Or as told to me over the years by several romantic co-conspirators of mine  – we can’t continue to go on like this. Like those conversations the reassuring statement that ‘it isn’t you’ sugarcoats the deceit. Except that it usually is us.

Minimal changes in our lifestyles could bring about a considerable impact without major changes in our collective quality of life. That’s the positive distillation of the Green message.

Some would argue that there is no real choice. To continue consuming as we are, means consuming resources that are becoming all too scarce on this all too finite planet we share. Soon we may no longer have the luxury of continuing to buy luxuries.

More are realising that the future, the short term future is a very uncertain thing. The Green movement has gathered to preach, preach the operable word, this message to a sparse number of believers. There is a danger has been that such a doom laden approach has also alienated many. I would like to think that a Green future can be, should be, must be a happy future.

Apocalyptic narratives don’t persuade. They push heads even further into the sand. There is a comfort in doing things as they’ve always been done. Persuading people to do otherwise in such circumstances is, and always be difficult. But in making do with less of much of what we never needed, we begin to do more with what can be shared between us, and then begin to own less.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Meanwhile…

Dan Boyle’s new book ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

27 thoughts on “Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

  1. edalicious

    I’ve noticed a few examples of “we’re back, baby” excess this Christmas. Seems particularly crass against the backdrop of our ongoing homelessness crisis.

    1. Andrew

      What do you want people to do? NOT spend their own hard earned money? Should they ask for a list of approved purchases from someone? Just in case somebody finds something offensive?
      There seems to be no shortage of people looking impose on others anyway.

      1. dav

        It’s highly likely that they are spending credit Andrew, feeding into a bubble economy that fg are trumpeting as a success story.

        1. Increasing_Displacement

          Why? I’d say nearly everyone I know doesn’t need credit bar for their car or house. I know some don’t even have CC.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            I dont. Most of my friends got rid of theirs with the introduction of debit cards… I know that is my own bit of an anecdotal view, which is why I’d like to know where dav gets the “likely” from, I do wonder…

          2. dav

            Hi Clampers,
            http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/personal-debt-has-doubled-to-danger-levels-395187.html
            https://www.irishtimes.com/business/personal-finance/irish-now-owe-less-debt-but-it-s-still-30-199-per-household-1.3093221
            https://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/why-do-the-irish-still-owe-more-than-the-greeks-1.3001026
            “Household debt

            It’s not just government debt that the Irish risk being suffocated by: household debt, while still improving, is also high by European averages, at €31,096 per capita.

            Although the most recent figures from the Central Bank, for February, show Irish households reduced debt as a proportion of income more than any country in the European Union over the previous 12 months, Irish consumers continue to be the fourth most indebted in the bloc, with a debt-to-disposable-income ratio of 144.8 per cent. This compares with 223.3 per cent for the Danes, the most indebted country in the EU, and less than 100 per cent in Spain, Greece, France, Germany and Italy.”

          3. Rob_G

            I imagine that the debt levels, while disquieting, are due to the fact that property prices here are so high. Which is due in part to the restricted supply, but also due to the fact that the economy is doing quite well.

            I notice that the countries ahead of us in the indebtedness stakes are also rich northern European countries.

          4. Clampers Outside!

            Yes, we have very high mortgages in Ireland which contribute to that figure.

            I still don’t know how you believe people are highly likely spending credit?
            I assumed you were being sparse with words and were implying the use of a credit card. Maybe this was not your intention.
            If not talking about credit card use, then I get your point now, which was not clear at the beginning.

          5. dav

            Apologies about my use of the term” spending credit”, I should have said spending, using credit or credit cards or getting loans or using their overdrafts, or buying a car using PCP, or higher purchase for that Flat screen TV or going to a loan shark. I am saying that it is likely because people don’t have the same level of cash in their pockets with the increases in expense such as rent.

          6. Rob_G

            Ah – so Clampers’s gut instinct was correct – you were in fact just making stuff up with no evidence to support it.

          7. dav

            Hi Rob G
            http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/personal-debt-has-doubled-to-danger-levels-395187.html
            https://www.irishtimes.com/business/personal-finance/irish-now-owe-less-debt-but-it-s-still-30-199-per-household-1.3093221
            https://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/why-do-the-irish-still-owe-more-than-the-greeks-1.3001026
            “Household debt

            It’s not just government debt that the Irish risk being suffocated by: household debt, while still improving, is also high by European averages, at €31,096 per capita.

            Although the most recent figures from the Central Bank, for February, show Irish households reduced debt as a proportion of income more than any country in the European Union over the previous 12 months, Irish consumers continue to be the fourth most indebted in the bloc, with a debt-to-disposable-income ratio of 144.8 per cent. This compares with 223.3 per cent for the Danes, the most indebted country in the EU, and less than 100 per cent in Spain, Greece, France, Germany and Italy.”

          8. Rob_G

            Do you even read your own links?

            Household debt comprises all debts a person owes, including mortgages. Your links say nothing about PCP financing or overdrafts or anything else you were talking about.

          9. Rob_G

            I don’t know – in some cases, yes, in some cases, no. But nothing in either of the links that you posted suggests that there is some epidemic of people buying things on credit (other than houses).

          1. snowey

            they most definitely are….
            but the point remains – whats wrong with them spending their hard earned credit….

            It’s their struggle to pay it off , not mine

  2. Col

    Is part of this due to house price inflation? People think they are wealthy because their houses are worth so much?
    That’s a genuine question- is this why it’s in the government’s interest to let house prices spiral out of control?

  3. Joxer

    Dan ref your musings on happiness – Yuval Harari does some good anlaysis on happiness of modern humans in the book Sapiens. worth a read if you haven’t read it yet.

    thanks for the columns through the year – havent always agreed with your points but sure whats the harm in hearing another view . merry christmas!

  4. scottser

    sure isn’t moving house a great way to de-clutter your life? there is a nice zen in taking with you only what you need. and sure dan, don’t you get to go to the recycling centre, which i reckon is a weekly treat for you?

  5. nellyb

    “I would like to think that a Green future can be, should be, must be a happy future” – thinking time is over. We’re overdue with planning stage already.
    How many greens attended https://www.met.ie/news/display.asp?ID=488 last week ?
    Neither I have seen one familiar political face from the current Dail. Neither in the audience, nor as contributors on the stage.
    The only politician who turned up to talk and contribute was Mary Robinson, who had to catch a plane for Paris One Planet climate summit ON THE SAME DAY. Talking to ordinary Irish was as important to her as talking to Kofi Annan, Macron and the rest later. She redeemed your lot, Dan.

    1. Yellow Cheese Dog

      So Robbo turns up at a meeting in Dublin to do a spot of virtue signaling for the troops on her way to a Paris climate-junket by airplane…

      Oh, the ironing.

  6. Yellow Cheese Dog

    So you’ve given up the doom saying ‘cos it “alienated many” (translation: “it’s not working any more”)

    Instead, you now want us to all “own less” (translation: “back in your box peasant!)

Comments are closed.