The great British make off: how a new materialism can give us back control

A true march of the makers will turn the tables on our abusive consumer culture and deliver the richer relationship with ‘stuff’ that our economy is crying out for

Materialism has become synonymous with consumerism – wasteful, debt-fuelled and ultimately unsatisfying. But what if we’ve not been looking in the wrong place for happiness, and we’ve just got the relationship badly wrong? Like an abusive relationship, we voraciously acquire things we barely use to fill acres of storage space while underpaid workers sleep in tents outside warehouses that feed our seemingly insatiable desire for more. There must be a better way.

Writing in 2012, Andrew Simms and I made the case for a “New Materialism” in which we nurture a more deeply pleasurable, and respectful, relationship with the world of things. Not only do we think it will significantly enhance our collective wellbeing, it’s a vital step if we are to find ways for everyone to thrive while living within environmental means. The New Materialism also offers solutions to key economic challenges such as the need to generate ample, good-quality jobs, rebuild hollowed-out economies and communities – and make everyday goods and services available in ways that escape the consumer-debt trap.

Far from eschewing materialism, a deeper understanding of humankind’s place in a living world of materials suggests the need and opportunity for a different kind of love affair with “stuff” – a long-term relationship of appreciation, slow pleasures, care and respect. Instead of abstinence and austerity, embracing the New Materialism could have profoundly positive effects. Inverting classic expectations of productivity in which fewer people produce more stuff for consumption, the New Materialism points to an economy in which, in effect, more people produce less stuff for consumption.

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