Neoliberalism Follies, Part III: Fascism by Way of Cappuccinos and Lattes

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

I do feel guilty. Earlier this year I purchased a hand pump frother with solid investment CAM00769returns in mind.

All through undergraduate university years I never was a coffee drinker, but suddenly in South Korea in 2008 I found that I needed to take caffeine to the next level in order to not literally fall asleep while teaching English pre-school in the morning. Cafes are quite ubiquitous in the Seoul area, and I soon moved from high fat, high sugar, high calorie frappuccino drinks to cappuccinos and lattes. Standard drip coffee is quite rare in South Korea, so I wound up spending about $4.50 per day most days on these elaborate drinks. This habit continued for a few years while traveling and relocating to Canada and later the United States. When my income contracted, I did make it a less frequent habit. Over the years, however, I probably sunk $6000 in cafe spending, though this offered sanctuary, social outings, and complimentary WiFi.

Flash forward to 2015 and I decided I wanted to decentralize this process a bit and make my own frothy espresso-based drinks. The frother, a pump that I insert milk into and push about 20 times, and then stick into the microwave for about 20 seconds, set me back $21 including tax. Faced with savings interest rates less than 1% per year, I calculated that I would save about $300 a year working with raw materials, which would be like a 3% return on $10,000 locked into a certificate of deposit (term deposit) – a figure unmatched in today’s safe investments environment.

The thing about low interest rates and economies of scale is that they do induce a type of corporate fascism in that there are no stable returns and thus the people with a bit of foresight and discretionary income have to sit on their money. Money that does not CAM00767circulate brings the economy down, particularly in a consumer-based economy. Therefore, on one hand I am being “forced” to austerity that hurts small, local business in order to get myself ahead, but on the other, that does not really take the responsibility away from me to make sure that I support local business or labor at large.

The compromise has been to go to cafes just as frequently as before, but save the more elaborate drinks for home, but order the most basic filter coffee at cafes when going out and still tip the barista/institution the same amount – typically $1.

How are you handling these daily, seemingly trivial, consumer Faustian choices?

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

See Neoliberalism Follies, Part II: No Newspapers in Montreal

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8 Responses to Neoliberalism Follies, Part III: Fascism by Way of Cappuccinos and Lattes

  1. richgedney says:

    One could even say a baristian bargain. 😉 Well said. I gave up going to coffee houses a while back. However when I do visit on the rare occasion I do as you and only purchase the small coffee of the day. Usually around $1.50. As Lisa used to say, Uprated and shared.

    • Thank you! The visitor traffic is up tremendously here but I do feel the absence of Lisa Falour and hope people visit the article where you interviewed her, mentioned a few posts ago.

      I never want to cut out cafe spending altogether because that is important for economic vitality but I definitely have shrunk the size of my purchases most days.

  2. Kris Bethea says:

    Every time I go thru a Starbucks drive-thru, I start a pay-it-forward

  3. Sofia P says:

    I’m sorry to say that I don’t put much thought into it. I do try to support local businesses, which is really rare in Japan because no one really talks about it, but when I do mention it to small business owners they get really happy at the fact that I have consciously chosen their business over a chain.

    For me, economically, I just buy what I want. However, with things that I think I can get recycled or reused, I’ll wait years sometimes. This includes almost anything that isn’t food. My dad was a big influence. When I went to visit him during the summers, every Saturday and Sunday we would go out to garage sales. He gave me my first lessons on what great things you can get when you’re not getting things new. Then when I was 27, I lived in a commune in the middle of San Francisco. All of us went to dumpster diving at proximate supermarkets and industrial food suppliers every few days. We would come home with tons of food, and none of it was rotten, or even touched! I can’t do that in Japan, but what I have been doing is dumpster diving at my university. There are so many nice things you can get that are sitting next to the dumpster, like our air conditioner. If I hadn’t dumpster dived that, we would be dying in the summer heat. I should have taken all three of them, but I only took one. I’ve also gotten fans, or toaster oven, a backpack, various things for the kitchen, a guitar… the list goes on and on. People just leave their stuff there before they move away. In Japan things are recycled on the side of the street, too so I just go ahead and if I see something I like I bring it home. My Dad used to do that too in LA, he’d see something that he wanted on the side of the road that someone was throwing away, grab it, and sell it at a consignment shop for sometimes hundreds of dollars.
    It may not be elegant, but I think that this way of life is better for the world. Appreciating things that were created of precious natural materials, so much effort that went into creating them, and the money, it’s all such a waste… There’s no love there. If we truly want to love the world we have to appreciate what is given to us, whether it’s new or used. That goes for people, too. Orphans, previously married people, things and people that you find in the moment are exactly that. In the moment. To truly understand something, maybe we have to look at it in the moment, and not at only its past.

    So, to answer your question, I guess I try to do my part for the world, but I don’t put much conscious effort into saving money. Maybe that’s why I have none!

    • You might really enjoy the work of Lisa Falour who had videos on YouTube channels slobomotion and cutecatfaith until her death in January 2015. She was a firm believer in “gleaning” materials that were thrown out.

      I have wondered if the Japanese consumer is interested in the provenance of the products. In the US I would say at least 20% of the people now make ethical considerations in their purchasing. Less than 1% will outright boycott anything, I’ve found. There is not a general thought process of how strong the impact of purchasing is.

  4. Kyle Hamer says:

    I really enjoy the connections you can make at local businesses, from a coffee shop to a constructions supply shop. Given the choice, I’ll always go to the local store. Moreover, the amount of money that stays local in a local business versus a box store (or equivalent) is remarkable! There are a lot of studies out there and they all seem to have it at roughly 13%-14% for a large chain store and 48%-52% in the few articles I scanned.

    John, you seen the photo that I posted today of our abandoned mall. That was the result of Zellers closing its doors, Super Value moving across the street to a new ‘box’, and the introduction of Walmart and Canadian Tire. The mall didn’t stand a chance in a small town with those stores. Furthermore, unlike some communities in the city (I’m thinking of the Main St / Commercial neighborhoods of Vancouver) the citizens of a small town haven’t yet grasped the consequences of spending all their money at major retailers. There is no sense of shopping local whatsoever. “Why? It’s cheaper at ________,” is the response I routinely receive.

    My buddy’s dad summed it up perfectly when he was talking to a cashier at a local store. She told him that she had done all her x-mas shopping online….his response, “Well, it’s a good thing I’m shopping here or you wouldn’t have a job.” Brilliant!

    • Kyle, I knew that the so-called “velocity of money” was better with a local purchase, but I had no idea it is as dramatic as you have described above. The easiest way to put it to people is that it’s probably worth paying more for products or services in that it provides us more employment security ultimately as well since there will be more capital available to employ us with this method. That said, chains do offer some other types of stability or familiarity. The absence of the chain in Canada called Zellers I feel also with the closure of several bookstore chains in the US – Waldenbooks, where I worked for three years, B. Dalton Booksellers, etc. – all of which do not exist anywhere now.

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