Luxuries and Necessities Part 1


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The Covid crisis has given me time to think. What exactly is a necessity? And what is a luxury?

The term is used in advertising – “Luxury Cruises” and Luxury Accommodation” come to mind. But after living for over seventy years, I have seen some luxuries become necessities. Healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables have improved our well-being. Just think back to the past when tea, sugar and flour were the staples. If we were to lose fresh foods, many “lifestyle” diseases would overwhelm society.

When I was a small child, bananas were a luxury; but these days, many people have one every day for breakfast to maintain their potassium levels. Chocolates, truffles and wine have always been luxuries, but if there is a problem in the wine industry, such as a drought, glut, or smoke-taint, we all hear about, and are willing to provide taxpayer support to the growers, as if it were a necessity. Only very expensive wine is now considered a luxury

Servants were once a luxury, and their loss during the gold rushes caused much pain for even the middle classes. In Australia, servants have mostly been replaced by casuals, like cleaning ladies, home handymen and tradies, though some outback properties still employ a cook for their workforce, especially during mustering or sheering.

Employment of servants by those who can still afford it, is a great way to redistribute that wealth, so we can cross all those workers off our list of luxuries.

Another luxury item of my childhood was a shop-bought dress. Fabrics and haberdashery were available everywhere at reasonable prices, and children were taught sewing at school. In high school they could include dress-design and various decorative crafts in their assessment. For years, my generation could make clothes for half the price of ready-made items, so dressed ourselves for home, work and even special occasions. Some of us still do. But dress-making has given way to other jobs for the average Australian.

Thanks to the sweat-shops of Asia, ready-made clothes are no longer a luxury item. But they can cause a problems, as Craig Reucassel has demonstrated.

Whatever has happened to quality standard items which will last for years? Fashion is a luxury we can do without.

It has been interesting to see the price of cotton has been falling lately, since new clothes are not a necessity in the short term. Thanks to the invention of synthetic fibers, wool is perhaps still a luxury, though we rarely need it in Queensland. Synthetic jumpers are much better at resisting clothes moths.

When I was a teenager, television was a luxury, and we didn’t own one for fifteen years. We even had to hire one for the Moon landing, but we eventually bought a set and became addicts like the rest of society. Have you ever just listened to the TV while getting on with other jobs? Most of my generation still listen to the radio, as words are often more important that the pictures. I even know one person who has resisted the “need “for TV.

But there is no doubt that TV has been a great educator, so is no longer a luxury. In the current crisis, the graphs provided on screen are vital to our understanding of the pandemic, and therefore, how we should respond. A screen, whatever it is connected to, is no longer a luxury.

In the 1970s a home computer was definitely a luxury, so much so that second-hand ones were passed on to family members when upgrading. We had to educate ourselves in how to use them – too hard for many people, and it wasn’t until about 1986 that schools started to instruct the non-geeks who hadn’t taught themselves. Many in the generations born before 1970, are still struggling unless they have found a patient instructor. The advent of the Internet has turned the computer into a necessity, so that subsequent generations now often rely on computers for work. However, for many Australians (and others) an Internet connection has remained a luxury, thanks to failure of timely government investment. With the current economic downturn, these people could wait years to move into the 21st Century, while the rest of us wonder where we be in this Covid crisis without the Internet.

Next week I will look at some other things which may or may not be necessities.