Up until recently, it was generally understood by most of the business community that, in order to survive and grow, businesses needed to continually innovate and adapt their product or service offerings. And it was also generally agreed that this was especially important during a period of recession.
But rather than using this recession as an opportunity to restructure and innovate, businesses are increasingly being advised to adopt a more prudent approach. Today rather than pursuing economic growth, being thrifty and ‘making do’ is seen as the key approach for businesses.
Earlier this year Nancy Gibbs, editor at large for TIME magazine, argued that America has become a Thrift Nation and that this has been a good thing for America. She commented that, ‘A consumer culture invites us to want more than we can ever have; a culture of thrift invites us to be grateful for whatever we can get’.
This emphasis on the need for a culture of thrift is also evident in the UK. As part of The Times recent series where leading thinkers were invited to comment on the recession, Oliver James, psychologist and author, argued that the recession has been a healer from what he has termed the ‘Affluenza Virus’ – where for the past thirty years we have placed too high a value on money, possessions, appearances and career. According to James, this virus has been bad for our mental health – causing us to suffer depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
These notions of thrift and affuenza also tie in with the discussion currently taking place in the UK around the need for a Happiness Index. This is the idea set out by the coalition government that we need to find a new and better way of measuring the wealth of nations other than the traditional measurement of GDP. According to these arguments, we do not need material things or prosperity to make us happy – the recession will force us to downsize our appetites and our economic and career ambitions.
However what has been forgotten in these discussions around thrift is the fact that in order to change society for the better we need more economic growth not less. With economic growth comes prosperity, and with prosperity comes real social, scientific and technological progress that brings benefits to us all. So forget about thrift and just making do – we need to be encouraging the upsizing of economic ambition and stimulating thought-provoking discussions around how we can encourage real technical innovation and economic dynamism.