We're generally told that the entire economy is slipping down that slope to hell in that proverbial handbasket. and yet when we go and look at what people are saying, away from the politically oriented opinion pages, in those very same newspapers we find rather a different story. Things seem to be getting better, perhaps not as fast as we would like, but better they are indeed getting. From the Guardian:
Rising employment, near-zero inflation and low interest rates have boosted household budgets. Food prices have fallen amid a supermarket price war, cheap oil has helped knock back petrol prices and the rise of discount retailers has cut the cost of clothes. All that leaves more money for non-essentials.
We would not claim that that is perfection but it's movement in the right direction at least. But there's more to it than just this. Maslow's Hierarchy is a real thing: we humans devote our resources to solving our desires in order. Food, shelter, a decent relief of the bowels, these are first line matters which we simply must solve. When we have solved these matters, largely so at least, we then move on to devoting extra resources to further goals and desires.
But we can also run this observation the other way around too:
They call it the “experience economy”: a huge shift in consumer behaviour is said to be under way, from buying things to doing things.
The demise of high street stalwarts BHS and Austin Reed, poor retail spending figures and a downturn in the number of people visiting high streets and shopping centres, are all being held up as evidence that Britons’ priorities are changing.
Earlier this year a senior Ikea executive warned that the appetite of western consumers to own ever more goods and chattels was probably waning. “In the west”, he warned, “we have probably hit peak stuff.”
Now retailers ranging from fashion to food chains are making similar observations, because official data shows that households are spending less on clothes and food but more on holidays, cars, entertainment and eating out. Spending on gadgets that keep people connected to the internet is also on the rise.
“We increasingly see a trend for consumers to spend more on experiences rather than on products,” said Kevin Jenkins, the UK and Ireland managing director of payment card group Visa Europe.
“Eating out, booking holidays and discovering new experiences are all driving spending growth at a time when the lower cost of living is creating higher disposable incomes.”
If people are devoting their marginal resources to those things higher up that Hierarchy then they must be getting richer. Again we do not claim that this is perfection nor does it mean that all is just peachy. But is the average consumer is both gaining in disposable income and also spending that marginal income higher up that list then they must indeed be becoming better off.
Which is, obviously, the point and purpose of having an economy in the first place, that the average person becomes better off over time. Which is happening. So, that hell and handbasket story: what's left of it?