• The Reader
    The Reader

Where does the money go?

Meat doesn’t come from the supermarket. Does money go to the cashier?

Imagine that you’re trying to decide whether to spend double for an “ethical” product. And right before making the purchase, you start to wonder: where does the extra money actually go? Why does the “better” product cost more?

For whatever reason, the fact is that sustainable products aren’t cheap. And while it’s likely that some of that premium does go to renewable materials and fairly compensated labor, what’s not evident is exactly how much?

Is it possible that by spending extra, the biggest change you’re making is actually to line the pockets of billionaires who don’t share your values? Could your desire to be responsible actually end up increasing the consumption of luxury goods – and the concentration of wealth?

Could buying organic actually make things worse?

This is the question that’s captured my attention over the past year. No matter what I try, I can’t help but feel that I’m still contributing to the slow descent of our developed world into madness.

I’ve tried moving to the country, hoping to decrease the rent I pay to the landlord class, slowing the concentration of wealth, and gaining more power over how my income is spent. But the reality I’ve faced is that the car-dependent culture of the countryside means that I’m now consuming more than ever.

I’ve tried to purchase locally made goods, hoping that the people who made them would be protected from exploitation by local labor laws. But the reality is that the majority of the cost of “made in Japan” flows from materials or assemblies made elsewhere.

But hypothetically, say that I do find a local, employee-owned supplier of daily necessities made from renewable materials. What happens then? After half of my payments disappear into housing for the craftspeople and their equipment, will they still be able to afford their own sustainable goods? The unfortunate truth is that right now, I dont have the data to say one way or the other.

What I do have is ample opportunity to spend double on goods marketed as local, or on the privilege of living in a city that allows me to be sustainable.

But there’s no transparency. There’s no way to follow the money. And without it, the act of spending extra is no more than a prayer to the gods of capitalism – to the owners of the profits and the land – to please do something for god’s sake.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of praying. I want to act.

But in order to act, I first need to know what effect my actions will have. I first need some way to follow the money. And I’m starting to think that – for anybody out there who feels the same – we may have no option but to build a solution ourselves.