American theatre project Reverend Billy and The Church of Life After Shopping is on tour in the UK this week protesting against consumerism and globalisation. What they’re missing is that trade is a good thing.
Somewhere back in history, people worked out that if individuals or groups specialised in the activities they did best and then traded to get the other things they needed, overall output was greater and everyone involved was better off. Modern trade, consumerism or shopping, call it what you like, is just a developed version of that. It generates wealth, keeps prices down, supplies our needs and delivers a higher average standard of living.
Consumer spending creates jobs and keeps people earning. Nearly three million people work in UK retail, plus many more in manufacturing and services. Our spending on imports supports jobs
overseas - including in developing countries where access to our market delivers better wages than would otherwise be available. Global trade has pulled millions out of poverty while foreign spending on UK goods and services supports jobs here.
Even those who don’t work in shops or manufacturing depend on trade. It drives the economy and generates the tax that pays for public services and welfare benefits. And remember, trade leads to prosperity, which allows us to make choices, including the choice to be responsible in our consumption.
Every month, the British Retail Consortium produces national retail sales figures. Over the past year when they were down, I didn’t see much celebrating. These anti-shop campaigners have eight dates in towns around England, but I just hope they don’t have a merchandise stall. That really would be a sell out.
- Stephen Robertson is director general of trade body the British Retail Consortium