Feb 11 2008

Purchase Power

This is something I think about a lot and it’s been an even bigger portion of my thought-time since Stasia and I bought this house. It feels like I’ve recently been writing an increasing series of the largest checks I’ve ever written, and with each one I’ve had to reexamine just what exactly my ethics are. It’s really a little more complicated than that because Stasia and I, like most partners (I assume) have different opinions and priorities but since the money that we’re spending is spent jointly we need to reach some kind of actionable agreement.

I think so far we’re doing ok, most of the big ticket items have had a lot of deliberation around them so that we could get the best mix between fair labor conditions, local support, environmental impact, social impact and price.

I’ve been really big on trying to think about the total cost of things that I purchase and training myself to be more comfortable paying closer to that range than I would normally be comfortable. Of course, it’s hard in a world of subsidies, tax-free-zones and exploited labor to really even estimate what the real cost of an item is. I’m glad that there’s a market segment in Portland that cares about categories like local, organic, cruelty-free, fair-trade, and a host of other metrics by which one could measure the impact of a product. That reminds me actually that I really like one of the tag-lines for People’s, a natural food co-op that Stasia and I joined, which claims “We read the labels so you don’t have to.” Which is pretty great, because truth be told, even though I do care deeply about what institutions and conditions I’m supporting with my purchase dollars, I don’t have the time or resources to exhaustively research every product that I am considering buying. It’s great to have a community of individuals out there that care about many of the same issues we do who are already handling some of that research for us. So I’m psyched about that.

To get back to the point (which is about purchase power and voting with my dollar), we’ve had kind of a rough time getting bedding that meets enough of the standards to be passable to both of us. We’ve both only ever had twin beds that we got when we were teenagers, and have been sleeping in those for the last ten years. Now that we’re someplace a little more permanent and… (sorry grandma) sleeping together, we figured it’s time to get a real bed (real = euphemism for queen, not the real as in real cost). Unfortunately I had done a little research about beds in particular after seeing the internet short The Story of Stuff a few weeks ago, and was pretty sure I didn’t want something that was going to be offgassing neurotoxins for the next ten-fifteen years (or however long a bed lasts). It’s crazy how many hoops you have to jump through to get a bed that doesn’t have flame retardants on it! We found this place in town (Cotton Cloud) where we could have a futon mattress made to order and because they make them right here in Portland, they can even make them without brominated flame retardants….

Or rather, they can make them without fire retardants if you have a doctor’s note saying that you’re allergic to them.

I’ll say that again. I needed a doctor’s note in order for them to not spray my bed with toxins. How crazy is that?! It’s so unbelievable to me that a chemical that’s a known neurotoxin, and which is banned in the UK and in a few states in the US, could have such a following as to require me to have a doctor’s note before they will let me sleep on a bed without it. I mean aren’t we all allergic to toxins…?

So long story short (and it really was longer than I’ve made it out to be), we’re all set now with an organic (flame-retardant-free) queen sized bed on a frame made from reused materials and sheets that were made from bamboo.

I’m not going to be able to get through it all now, but I also wanted to touch on that even though I am in favor of conscious consumption, and researching the ultimate impact of any money one spends, I also need to qualify that by saying that I hugely disagree with the many people out there who believe that the dollar is the only currency of democracy and that the free market will sort out all of our problems. It seems like libertarians have been more vocal this year, since Ron Paul is in the running for the Republican nomination, and I’m really surprised how many people in my own age group seem to support these very conservative economic positions.

A system where the wealthy have more votes because of their increased purchase power is not a just, fair, or virtuous system in my book…