Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Are you what you buy? Namsurei Thomas Kamei, Asst. Professor of Economics and creator of Facebook group “The Naga Economists”


Scholarships in the air!’ Well, at least in some bank accounts. So, what are students going to do with this money?  Books, fees, clothes or some “Project X” style crazy party? Liberalisation and relative peace in Nagaland seems to have brought about a mushrooming of showrooms and branded goods. We Nagas have never had it so good with the amazing flurry of choices available to us now. However, is that a positive thing? What do our choices say about us?

Are you what you buy?


Two friends went to shop in Dimapur. One of the friends wanted to buy a trendy jean. At the shop, without much fuss, they bought the jean at a whopping price of Rs. 6000, much to the amazement of one of the friends. The jean could have been bought at a much cheaper price. The amazed friend wanted to know why his friend bought it at such an exorbitant price. The friend replied coolly, “I can proudly claim it cost 6000 bucks”.
Another time during summer, both the friends went to shop again. This time one of the friends, wanted to buy the much talked about ‘white T-shirt’. They bought it without bothering about the price, the quality and whether it was extremely necessary.
Now, let us look at these two examples from an economists’ outlook. The first type of behaviour of buying is conspicuous consumption or prestige buying. Things we buy because of the price and to show-off and not so much because of the quality and its importance. The second type of behaviour of buying is called ‘band-wagon effect’ or ‘demonstration effect’. I need to buy because others too are buying. I must buy it to look trendy and follow others whether it is a constraint on my resource or not.
These are just two instances that prove “are we not what we buy?” I do not go for a T.V. set when what I need is a bed. I would not go for a computer when what I need is decent medical care. Are we buying what we are supposed to be buying? Are we, in a broad sense consuming what we really need?
The simple meaning of consumption is the intake of food and drinks. It is not as simple as what we understand of the meaning of the word. In a broader sense, consumption encompasses all the activities that do not require one to design, produce and market it. Therefore, all the goods and services that come under our activities are our consumption. A clearer example might be going to a church and listening to the sermons of a pastor. This is an act of consumption - the service of the pastor.
Are the things and ways in which we consume correct? Certainly, some areas of our lives, especially the behaviour of buying have been affected by the changes globally and locally. The introduction of the limitless “Freedom of choice” has concocted our behaviour of buying. Now it has become more or less a showpiece - consumption is power. Gradually things we require are replaced by things that others possess. The liberalisation of the economy has added thousands of commodities to the list of choice. The result, though late, is felt even in far flung areas of the country especially in our state - a consumerist state. It is pertinent to understand that the proportion of resources we spent on consumption should not be same as that of other producing states. It is also paradoxical that whatever we consume reflects our standard of living and whatever we consume now will determine our standard of living in the future. This is so because there cannot be growth without investment and investment can come only when there is saving.
There are many instances where we (Nagas) deviate from prudent spending/buying. Events like marriage, birthdays, christening, tribes’ festivals and religious functions can be better managed without so much of wastage of resources. The general assumption today is that in all these events the more the resources spent, the higher is the rate of returns. The day is not far when the sanctity of these events will be over consumed by the degree of commercial gains.
My opinion is that there is really no problem in trying to be like others. Trying to be like others who are more refined is a positive thing. It is a progressive sign. The problem is we over do it. Be it in our food habits, the dress we wear, the fashion we choose - we overdo it losing the essence of subtlety. We must not forget there is axone, anishi, bastenga,sukamas waiting back home for dinner.
“Check the money in your pocket, check what is really needed and buy it - you are what you buy”

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