MINIMALISM AND THE ECONOMY

Minimalism is on the rise, and with it is the question of how a move away from consumerism would affect countries’ economies. I have heard horror stories of how minimalism would destroy growth, revenue, job supply and all other facets of what we deem to be a thriving economy.

Minimalists and non-minimalists alike have argued that a general shift to ‘less’ might be unsustainable. I believe this is only true if we were to look at the projection from a point of view that assumes we need to keep certain ideas, profit margins, budgets and standards unchanged. This is in fact not the way to look at the possibility, because when one thing changes, it will cause a domino effect that changes everything in turn.

As a practicing minimalist I find that whilst, as a rule, those who seek this alternate lifestyle choose to satisfy their ‘needs’ not ‘wants’, they do class pursuit of memories and experiences through travel, events and other, mostly non-material purchases among their ‘needs’. This means that whilst demand in the manufacturing sector might decrease, it would be potentially offset by the increase in the demand in the services sector, rather than bring about a reduction in economy size as such.

Minimalists tend to buy fewer but also better quality, sustainable and ethical products. Therefore their overall spending and revenue in certain departments will be only slightly lower than current levels. Minimalists tend to shy away from child labour and other unethical or otherwise irresponsible practices and maybe also irregular businesses. They are ready to pay the price for ethics as well as for more environment-friendly options.

On the other hand, some people might still question the viability of such a lifestyle if we are to keep jobs intact, simply because it will take less labour to produce, say, one metal reusable straw as compared to the amount of disposable ones the same buyer might have used up in a lifetime. However, one must consider that it is the consumerist mind that demands more things, which in turn pressures that consumer to work more hours, causing the need for that employer to make more profit in order to pay for the long hours. So it is all proportional really.

Even if, in this hypothetical situation, labour force requirement is reduced, it might still not be a bad thing after all. Even if practically all the people in the First World become minimalist, considering that minimalists prefer free time to enjoy their lives over working hours or extra money in the bank account, I rather think there would still be enough work to go around. Instead of a reduction in labour force, this would allow for a reduction in working hours that any employee would want to put in.

The ‘new’ consumer, in buying less, would need to put in less working hours in order to have ‘enough’ cash for all they desire, and in fact will afford more free time, which in itself will require that person to spend more on leisurely ‘needs’ such as the aforementioned holidays, restaurant meals and other services in the entertainment industry. So I’d say the wheels would keep turning anyway.

The revenue generated by the country in any given year might be lower due to decrease in demand of material things, but even if not completely offset by the increase in demand of services, events, and the tourist industry, the country would, in my opinion, still enjoy an overall better standard of living. This is because minimalism is never about doing without but rather about eliminating waste and excess that anyway does not add anything meaningful to our life and might actually harm it by causing stress related to needing more money. More financial demands mean more work and less free time, in a vicious circle that cannot be tamed.

Whilst those who want ‘more’ will always want ‘more’, the person who is satisfied with ‘enough’ will proceed to fill the hours with what makes him/her happy instead of more work and more useless stuff. Economic growth is necessary only when the mindset of ‘more’ is in place and will cease to be of any importance to a world that is satisfied rather than greedy.

Further reading:

Ten reasons to choose a minimalist life