The most beautiful time of the year – Economy and ecology

We know the holiday season has truly begun when primetime television begins to fill with over-the-top annual promotions from major retailers. Giant supermarkets and the biggest department stores spend millions every year trying to boost customer spending in November and December, those months typically accounting for more than a fifth of the year’s sales.

In Great Britain, according the Guardian, this year, however, “retailers are struggling to find the right tone for their annual promotional campaign as a rise in the cost of basic necessities, including energy bills and food, leaves many families short of money”. Mid to high-end retailer Marks and Spencer, whose advert for its clothing and home stores last year featured a Hollywood-style, song and dance extravaganza, 12 months later features the recipients of its charitable donations of million to community groups and good causes. German discount retailer Lidl echoes this tone: its seasonal advertising centers on the teddy bear mascot of its toy bank initiative, which makes charitable donations of toys and games to children.

Although the cost of living crisis has led to an estimated 6% drop in the value of Christmas sales in the UK, they are still expected at £82.2bn in 2022.

Low-cost supermarket Tesco’s has meanwhile hit the economic crisis created by the disastrous October mini-budget during Liz Truss’ short-lived premiership. His alleged party political show of ‘Christmas partyincludes a “manifesto” promising “more pigs in blankets for more people” and “wines that are on budget,” with the pledge: “The only things we’ll cut are prices and cakes.”

Although the cost of living crisis has led to an estimated 6% drop in the value of Christmas sales in the UK, they are still expected at £82.2bn in 2022. This large number is found under some of the ‘fun facts‘ provided by the British Retail Consortium – which includes the 16 Christmas presents received by the average child and the 7,000 calories (lumberjack level) consumed by the average Briton on Christmas Day.

State consumption

The not so fun facts are, of course, that poverty, misery and roaming are all on the rise in the UK, accompanied by serious pressures on mental and physical health. The pressure to spend to achieve a perfect mythical Christmas is just another stress for those who are already suffering the most from the burden of the crisis. Too often, expenses have to come from savings and credit cards rather than truly disposable income.

The way Christmas is celebrated is riddled with social class implications. So much so that the English humorist Richard Osman could Tweeter:

“The question of class, of where we all belong and of the boundaries that separate one class from another are so complex and multifaceted. But, basically, it all comes down to this. The later you open your presents on Christmas Day, the more middle class you are.

And the pressure to spend — perhaps spending more than you can afford — is shaping Christmas spending in surprising ways. Lower down the social ladder, it seems more important to present a social identity that suggests financial security, wealth and generosity, rather than higher up.

Unsurprisingly, low-income households spend a greater proportion of their income on Christmas.

Poverty robs people of opportunities to be generous and at Christmas, in particular, people want to avoid appearing ungenerous or harsh. Unsurprisingly, low-income households spend a greater proportion of their income on Christmas. But the researchers also found that, in some years, members of the British working class spend more in absolute terms on food and drink in December than their middle-class counterparts – perhaps reflecting a need to boost social status through seasonal feasts that contrast with everyday hardships.

A 2019 comparison of Christmas celebrations with seven European neighbors confirms itUK spent the most (€639 per household) and the Netherlands the least (€341 per household), with gifts accounting for the majority of spending in both countries. Income inequality has been linked to higher status consumption—spending to improve social status through the conspicuous consumption of consumer goods that confer and symbolize it. And on measures such as the Gini coefficient, the United Kingdom has become an exception in Europe for its accentuated inequality.

Christmas spending and the climate crisis

Research has also suggested that status anxiety may be the mechanism that links income inequality to status consumption. A group of us at York University just posted An analysis of the evidence who found that status anxiety may indeed be an important driver of the higher consumption seen in more unequal societies such as Britain.

Consumption fueled by status anxiety is associated with household indebtedness, the separation of rich and poor into distinct geographic communities, unsustainable consumption cycles and longer commuting times, ultimately contributing to higher carbon emissions. Income inequality raises expectations of what is considered a “normal” way of life, putting additional pressure to buy material goods and pay for experiences that signal the status of others – all of this amplified during the holiday season.

Inequality-driven consumption patterns – not only of material goods, but also of the growing “experience economy” where tourism and globalized travel are becoming additional ways of displaying social status – lead to carbon emissions. increasingly unsustainable carbon. Although the production sites of material goods are often in developing countries, they are transported and consumed in high-income countries, contribute even more to greenhouse gas emissions than if they were consumed locally.

One study optimistically put forward the idea of ​​’remarkable preservation“, in which the status would be sought not by the ostentatious consumption of everyday goods, but by purchases which showed concern about the environment. A “Prius halo” would arise from spending on a high-end but low-emission vehicle, for example.

A recent analysis shows that it takes 26 years for the lowest paid 10% of workers in the UK to emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as the richest 1% in one year.

Similar phenomena related to Christmas overspending are ‘Buy Nothing Day‘, an international day of protest against consumerism, and the ‘don’t buy anything christmas‘ movement. If in the context of the climate emergency, perhaps status can now be displayed via green identifiers, then in the context of the cost of living crisis, can this come from overcoming the pressure to spend at Christmas ?

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that such moves could mitigate the carbon-rich lifestyles of the wealthy. A recent analysis shows that it takes 26 years for the lowest paid 10% of workers in the UK to emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as the richest 1% in one year.

The ecological footprint of the rich is so big that it must be reduced – not only for reasons of justice, but as an essential element in bringing the environmental crisis under control. And the movement toward sustainability will meet widespread opposition unless people feel that the inevitable burdens of change, and of the policies needed to move it forward, are shared equitably.

These are just two compelling reasons why greater equality is essential in a world facing a climate emergency. This holiday season, perhaps the greatest gifts we can give ourselves are permission to not over-consuming, in pursuit of an unattainable ideal Christmas, and encouragement to join movements of activism and solidarity – promoting true “peace and goodwill” of sustainability and conflict resolution.

This is a joint publication of Social Europe and IPS JournalI