By Jonathan 6 Comments

It’s a Cheap, Cheap, Cheap, Cheap World

You know that old cliché saying that’s usually attributed to somebody’s grandpa? It goes something like this:

“Used to be people understood the value of a dollar.”

I’d like to update that saying a bit for our modern age. Try this on:

“It used to be people understood the value of, well, anything.”

Sadly that is not the case anymore. In our present culture of “more, better, cheaper”, no one appreciates the value of anything, and fewer and fewer things have value.

I call this the Wal-Mart effect, as I believe that Wal-Mart is the single greatest cause of our present predicament. Wal-Mart’s present day slogan is “save money, live better” which sounds like a wonderfully down to earth concept on its face, until you actually stop to think of what it actually means. When you do you’ll have a hard time calling that slogan disingenuous. Such a term will seem to kind.

In order for you to save money at Wal-Mart, you have to be willing to support a behemoth organization that uses and abuses it’s employees. They are paid minimum wage across the board, which amounts to around 9 dollars and hour in most of Canada and an even more disgusting $7.25 in most of the USA. A fulltime Canadian Wal-Mart employee can expect to make around $1440 per month, before taxes. After taxes they might take home $1200 or so. Now the average rent for a shit hole in British Columbia, where I live, is around a thousand bucks a month, leaving your average Wal-Mart employee with a whopping $200 dollars left over to pay for everything else they have to pay for.

Not a pretty picture is it? And so Joe Blow Wal-Mart employee spends his remaining $200 dollars at Wal-Mart (that’s right, he gives it right back to the company that rapes him every day) and he saves some money, maybe, but he certainly doesn’t live better. Meanwhile the CEO of Wal-Mart, a giant douche named Michael Duke, makes $16,826.92 per hour. If you’re doing the math, you’ll note that that is considerably more than most Wal-Mart employees, in other words the ones that do all the hard work, make in an entire year. And while all this is going on, Wal-Mart continues to lobby for more tax cuts for the already super rich.

As for the slightly more fortunate among us, they may have been lucky enough not to have to work for Wal-Mart, but not so lucky as to have escaped it’s influence on our world, and their pay-cheques. Average household incomes have remained completely stagnant for the past 30 years, and yes, that does account for inflation. What isn’t mentioned is that those stagnant household incomes, which in 1980 were more often that not earned by one person, now more often than not reflect the combined income of two earners, perhaps because so many good full-time jobs have been lost, and replaced by crappy part-time positions.

I’m quoting American numbers here, but I’m pretty sure the difference is not too different here in Canada.

The collateral damage

I was out attempting to do some Christmas shopping the other day and I couldn’t help but notice all of the cheap Chinese made crap on the shelves. Just as an example, when I was a child, my mother decorated our Christmas tree exclusively with beautiful, hand-made glass ornaments. As near as I can tell, these don’t even exist anymore, they certainly aren’t available in department stores. All you will find today are mass-produced plastic junk, except it no doubt sells for the same price as the high quality glass stuff used to.

Everything we own and use on a daily basis these days is disposable. Our clothes, our furniture, even our homes. Gone are the days of buying furniture once and keeping it for a lifetime, these days you’ll be lucky to get five years out of it before it’s ready for the garbage dump. And if it’s the sort of product that can’t simply be built shoddily enough to make sure it breaks in five years, then companies will build in obsolescence through good old-fashioned social manipulation, which is why so many people run out and buy a new iPhone every 18 months even though their existing one is perfectly functional and still does 98% of everything the new one does.

And of course all of this stuff has been made in China, making the west directly responsible for building up the economy of the world’s most dangerous dictatorship, while bankrupting their own nations. And make no mistake, the U.S. is just as bankrupt as Greece, and just as unwilling to do anything about it. We in Canada are still doing okay, but complacency is alive and well, and we are in no less a precarious position.

It’s a simply lovely situation when a communist country with the world’s largest military, suddenly becomes the world’s most powerful economy. The Japanese once said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant”. They had, and it didn’t work out well for them. Well that giant, by its own doing, is no longer the giant it once was. Just wait until China wakes up.

More. Better. Cheaper.

Ah yes, the current paradigm of our populace. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true. Trouble is, it rarely is. In most cases you can only have, at best, two out of the three. If you have more, and it’s better, then it can’t be cheaper. And if you want cheaper, and better, well you will probably have to settle for a bit less of it. And if it’s more and cheaper that you want, well, sorry to tell you, it’s not going to be better.

And the latter situation represents what most of the world is after today. No one wants to pay for anything (except for Starbucks, for some reason no one minds paying for overpriced, low quality coffee). As a business person who offers service products, I see this every day. Even though my rates are extremely reasonable, few people want to pay them. Some of the proposals and budgets people present to me would have me working for less than $10 per hour. It’s laughable, but that is what people expect these days, and I spend a great deal of time educating people on what is really involved in doing what I do in order to help them see the value.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But either way it’s hard to blame them. The value of everything in our lives has been so tragically depressed, even as inflation has skyrocketed, and wages have stagnated, it’s not wonder so many people expect something for nothing, they themselves are being asked to trade precious hours of their life for less and less money every year.

So the next time you find yourself searching for something cheap, take a moment and consider what cheap is really costing you.


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  • Julia says:

    My grandfather said when he was a child, it was a privilege to be able to purchase something. And it was a privilege to be able to sell your work. Heck, it was a privilege to be trained in a craft. (He would have been 95 this year.) As someone who supports the comeback of handmade and the preservation of hand arts, it’s something I’ve analyzed on my own blog. As hard as it is to compete with China and the Wal-Mart mentality, we handmade artisans and artists do it. And I think slowly but surely we are succeeding in turning the tide. I also believe the cost of living is far too inflated. Besides how sad it is that people cannot make a living wage, it’s sad that housing has increased in cost so dramatically, not to mention the taxes on properties. Wages have not increased to match housing increase. I don’t entirely blame business owners, especially since my father and grandfather were small business owners and frequently, there was little to no pay left for dad after the employees had been paid. Taxes were a problem too and eventually the business was lost. It survived long enough to raise two generations of kids and that’s it. But even so, it is tough to make a living wage with my handwork either and underpricing is a continued problem in the handmade marketplace as some artists feel it’s the only way to make a sale. Folks are used to paying prices for items that would require 30-50 cents an hour to make. We do not value each other and the people behind the products we buy like we used to. There’s a complete lack of gratitude for any of what we enjoy today. I think the answer is to get back to being a community.

  • Ann says:

    You have no idea how much I agree with what is basically a rant.

    Before Walmart there was Kmart. Before Made in China there were Made in Taiwan and Hecho en Mexico.

    The ultimate is the story of the old violin and the Touch of the Master’s Hand. Value is not valued.

    The preacher in Ecclesiastes said it best when he said that there is nothing new under the sun.

    You are in league with the great ones. Don’t stop.

    • Jonathan says:

      What an incredibly touching comment, Ann, thank you!

      I questioned my decision to post this, after I had written it and realised how it turned out, mostly on the grounds of whether it fit with the theme of this blog.

      In the end I decided that it was worth it either way, and you have shown me through your comment that my decision was the right one.

      Thank you, and I hope I will see you back here again.


  • Linda says:

    Just an interesting note. A few years ago I came across a little tidbit. My numbers are quite possibly incorrect, but in the state of California alone, FULL TIME Wal-Mart employees cost the state 9 million dollars in welfare. This isn’t because they are scamming the gov’t, but because the wage is so low they cannot afford the basic cost of living.

    • Jonathan says:

      I remember hearing that too. It’s a sad sorry situation when hard working people with full time jobs are lining up at the food banks, but that’s what’s happening.