I was recently reminded of a quote by that most venerable of scholars, Jack Handy, who said, ‘I believe in making the world a better place for our children but not our children’s children because I don’t believe that children should be having sex’. For some reason this led me to think of the old conundrum of what came first, the chicken or the egg? I’m not sure why. I suspect it probably has to do with the idea of sustainability, of trying to live in the short-term but still think long-term. Chickens seem as good an example as anything; let’s not count them before they’ve hatched.
As a nation we consume a large amount of chicken per capita. How much thought do we give it? Do we know the environmental impact of farming livestock? Fortunately chicken has the least impact on the environment when compared with pork, lamb or beef. In fact battery chickens have a lower carbon footprint than free range. What do we know about this meat, is it really hopped up on steroids, having lived a cramped existence? Does it have a long-term health impact? Do we ever look at the pack and think is this really chicken or perhaps a long lost stock of frozen Dodo? We probably don’t, we probably look at the packs and find a price per kilogram that is cheapest. When petrol is up and the lights are down and milk costs R20 for two litres what else can you do? Organic is great and may allow you to live a long healthy but rather impoverished life.
The point is not whether one way is right or wrong but rather how much consideration we give it. Let’s take a look at the local trucking industry. Noticeable for all the wrong reasons. Noisy, consumers of fuel, air polluting and seemingly largely inefficient when compared with rail. Not to mention the cost to the insurance industry as a result of accident damage and consequent loss of life. Low margins lead to poor upkeep and inexperienced and cheaper labour. A very bleak picture could be painted. What is the alternative however, and is it sophisticated enough? Well it’s rail and it seems it’s not. The other thing is that the trucking industry is well established, creates employment and certainly contributes to the economy. Its long term impact however seems obvious.
We cannot simply remove it however or perhaps the powers that be are happy to keep it, perhaps they too don’t believe their children should be having sex…ever. It’s like asking if we’re consciously, or with conscience, able to write off a generation. If we know that we can create a wonderful existence for the one to follow. Hopefully the answer is obvious. That’s not to say however that we shouldn’t be looking at the alternatives, making short term decisions with long-term goals in mind.
The examples above are random, every industry can probably be looked at in a similar light, assuming the power’s on. What it ultimately comes down to is greed. Not wanting to forego immediate profits. It’s the same as buying the cheapest product, even if it means that some twelve year old will continue to work under the most heinous conditions. The same logic can also be applied to the short term insurance industry. Insurers offer the earth for a song in order to get market share. They ignore the results, carefully calculated by highly paid actuaries. Results that determine the correct price to be charged for a certain vehicle, driven by a certain individual, who lives in a certain area, has been driving for a certain period and has suffered a certain amount of losses, amongst other things. The industry is forced into adapting. The ultimate result is unsustainable losses in the short to medium term and ultimately, for those who outlast the rest, huge over-corrections in the future. Just imagine if the timing of these over-corrections coincides with an increased oil price and a weak Rand.
No one can be blamed for buying cheap. Times are hard and everyone is suffering, particularly those at the lower end of the economy. Just as smokers continue to smoke even though they are well aware of the long term detrimental effects; we become more easily seduced by deals, ignoring the fact that they are too good to be true, ignoring the fact that we may only get 50% use for our 30% saving. Do we ask ourselves in these times of economic strain, can we really afford to buy cheap? A final word from Jack Handy, ‘if you ever catch on fire, try to avoid seeing yourself in the mirror, because I bet that’s what really throws you into a panic’.