All I want for Christmas…

‘Dear Santa,

My name is Reece Martin. I am 7 years old. I have been a good boy for my Mam and Dad. This year I would really like a black PSP Wipeout Pulse and ratchet and clank for the PSP and a radio controlled Mazda RX8 and High School Musical, Smack Down 2008 for the PS2. I will leave out something nice for you and the reindeers. I will go to bed early’

‘Dear Santa,

It’s Christmas time again. This year I would like a HSM 80ball, a black Nintendo DS, Nintendogs, Dogz 2, Butterscotch, Amazing Lexi, iTeddy, HSM CD and a surprise. I will leave food out for you and your reindeers’ – Ciara Bolger (7).

In this week’s issue of the Wexford Echo, there are around 10 pages of Letter to Santa. The examples above are pretty typical. And what’s more, Ciara, Reece and thousands of other little boys and girls in Wexford and beyond will get everything on their Santa list, and probably a lot more besides.

Uncles, aunts and family friends are now offering poor Santa stiff competition in the Christmas stakes, with huge presents that 10 or 20 years ago would have been few and far between, now appearing as a matter of course. Nor can the children be faulted in this.

Those of us old enough to remember when Christmas presents were a great deal less elaborate probably have mixed feelings. On the one hand, who wouldn’t be a little jealous at all the amazing gadgets available today? On the other hand, where’s the wonder in it for children if they are bombarded with more and more elaborate gifts from an early age? When your five year old already has the DVD player, iPod, PSP, etc. etc., what next? What will they be expecting by the time they’re 10?

All this has happened so fast. Irish people – mostly – do indeed have more brass in pocket, but what’s really changed here is just how unbelievably cheap many consumer goods have become. Five years ago, a middling home PC would have set you back up to €2,000. Today, its faster, better specced replacement can be had for as little as €400–€500. Laptops have dropped even more dramatically.

Right across the spectrum, goods, from TVs to fridges, home entertainment, furniture have fallen sharply in both absolute and relative terms. My father bought his first colour TV in 1972, just in time for the Munich Olympics. It was a 25″ Bush, and cost £800. That was an enormous sum 35 years ago.

Even allowing for advances in technology, the collapse in prices of so many goods is astonishing. And it’s all down to the dramatic advance in globalisation in the last decade in particular. Cheap labour markets of the Indian sub-continent and Asia, along with their business-friendly (i.e. almost non-existent) environmental policies, have allowed the plunder of fast-disappearing natural resources at a hitherto unimagined rate.

And for what? So every Happy Meal in McDonalds can have an electronic, battery-powered throwaway toy included? So we can throw out perfectly good products onto landfill and replace them within months with the latest-and-cheapest new version.

This glut of cheap goods has also kept inflation low in Ireland and the west, at a time when our gluttony should be sending it through the roof. The rules of international trade have, in half a generation, been rewritten.

The bitter irony is that the greatest consumerist orgy in the history of the world exactly overlaps with the time of our greatest awareness of the sustainability and ecological crisis gripping the planet, and of course of climate change being wrought by our ever increasing carbon emissions.

Maybe Gran was right after all: you can have too much of a good thing. I’ll leave the last word to little Joe Ivory from Wexford, aged three and a half:

‘Dear Santa, I would like an umbrella for Christmas please. I am being a very good boy. Could we have a surprise for my dog, Billie?’.

Aaaah, there’s hope for us all yet!

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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