consumption habits and thinking beyond convenience

From Kevin Simler's essay Wealth: The Toxic Byproduct:

"[...] money spent on consumption is toxic — value-destroying. This is true even in our daily lives, without the literal magic window. Every time we spend money on a yacht or an iPhone or a nice jacket or even food, we're taking something of value from society and using it for our own purposes [...]

As long as someone's money is tucked away in his bank account, we're safe. But the minute it starts to leak out, via consumption, we all become that much worse off [...]

Earning money (via production) is good for others. Spending it (via consumption) is bad."

And from Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training:
"A reinforcer is anything that, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again."
The exchange of money, all it really is is a reinforcement mechanism. 

When you buy something, you are signaling to the seller of that service or good that you value it. If you buy it at a significantly high price or significantly high frequency, you are reinforcing the belief in the seller that he is making something valuable.

As a seller, this is great. You've provided a service or a good that other people find really useful. With enough buyers, you will continue to provide this service or good. This behavior has been reinforced by the "market" (which is really just a bunch of people sitting around swiping credit cards and writing checks/Venmo payments).

As a buyer, you have reinforced a behavior in a seller. By buying something, you have signaled to a seller or group of sellers that you wanted something enough to pay for it. 

This act of buying is very susceptible to being toxic. Why did you choose to buy that one thing instead of another thing? Are you sending the right signals to the right creators? What does eating at McDonald's instead of Chipotle signal and reinforce to the supply-side of the economics equation?

Merchants and sellers (at least those whose names aren't Steve Jobs) are simply reacting to the signals that consumers are sending them. Yes, to some degree the sellers are trying to "hack" consumption habits to profit from them via marketing and design. But it is still the consumers who have great autonomy over what they ultimately purchase. 


Why do you buy the clothes that you buy? 
Why do you eat the food that you eat? 
Why do you refill the tank or pay for repairs on your car?
Why pay for Spotify Premium? 
Why live where you live and pay as much or as little as you do?

These are loaded questions that bring up the issue of "values."

Capitalism gets a lot of flak, but it's really just a solution for "I want that thing. You have that thing. And I really really want it. I'd kill you to have it, or I'd just steal it. But that isn't really feasible or always possible. So here we are." Capitalism makes exchange more convenient, and the exchange is of things that we individually value for some reason or another.

So there's nothing wrong with consumption if the underlying values (aka "things we want") are defensible ones. However, oftentimes the main value underpinning many of our consumption decisions is convenience.

Things can be convenient but also have other rich values associated with them. The trick is to identity what those other values are before optimizing for convenience. The main example of this I see is the McDonald's vs. Chipotle distinction. Both establishments are incredibly convenient. Chipotle differentiates itself by channeling its convenience efforts towards healthy, locally raised fast-casual (or something like that). That's dope.


Clothes: buying at thrift shops v. buying at J Crew
Housing: living in a brownstone in a gentrifying neighborhood v. living in a high-rise
Transportation: biking to work v. driving to work
Diet: eating vegetarian v. eating whatever

Maybe all of this is painfully obvious and that I've obfuscated what was already clear. Oh well.