Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: 'Tis the season for jolly junk mail

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Consumerism is more robust than ever at this time of year.
Consumerism is more robust than ever at this time of year.

That Christmas comes but once a year is unarguable and also irrelevant now that early on-sale dates for decorations and long post-December 25 comedowns make it last the best part of half a year. You can pretty much be fixated on Christmas from September to February if you spend enough time at The Warehouse.

However, the festival also brings with it a focus on shopping and the downside thereof. It's both pathetic and heartbreaking to hear stories of youngsters experiencing real grief because the must-have new toy is gone - I'm thinking 30-year-old men who find that supplies of the iPhone 5S ran out so all they got was this stupid jetski.

Despite calls for its abolition dating back to at least the time of Christ, known to have been one of the world's least enthusiastic shoppers, consumerism is more robust than ever.

Somehow the new systems of digital transmission of information don't seem to have affected the junk-mail industry, with pamphlets breeding like reality cooking shows, their publishers worried that I'm not drinking enough alcohol, eating enough battery-farmed eggs or filling my home with enough badly made, poorly designed furniture.

I have recently moved to a home where, for the first time, I have a letterbox bearing a "No Junk Mail" label.

I've always looked at these and thought they don't work, but they do.

My mail has been cut by more than half, highlighting that junk mail is the holy writ of the consumerist cargo cult which teaches that things can make us happy if only we have enough of them.

The trouble is that there are always more things being made for us to want.

Another problem with the model has been highlighted in a survey by Israeli and American researchers.

The survey looked at people who'd lived through Palestinian rocket attacks and discovered that "highly materialistic individuals ... exhibited far higher levels of post-traumatic stress and were much more likely to try to soothe themselves via compulsive shopping".

Although consumerism can apparently cheer you up after a rocket attack it can also make you extremely miserable, if you get into debt thanks to its lure.

Improved financial literacy could be part of the answer. Done properly the improved teaching of this skill, as proposed by the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income, could discourage rather than encourage consumerism.

However, that doesn't seem to be the direction being taken by the commission, which has dragooned the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, to head a "coalition of banks and financial services providers dedicated to lifting people's money skills".

Keeping to budgets would have been one of the Governor-General's key performance indicators when he was head wallah of the Government Communications Security Bureau, but I wonder if he's best placed for this role. And I'm sure that banks and financial services providers are not the answer.

Any moves to improve financial literacy need to include contributions from the Child Poverty Action Group, City Mission, Budgeting and Family Support Services and others who are down at the sharp end of the problem every day, not just handing out money to as many people as possible, with scant regard for their ability to deal with the consequences.

• I don't enjoy reading about trials as a rule, finding them unedifying and sad for all concerned. However, I have learned that if I ever decide to murder someone I'm definitely not going to talk it over with anyone first.

- Herald on Sunday

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