A friend just told me that a luxury brand, which shall remain nameless, has had to ration its handbag sales. “Customers can’t buy more than one every two months,” my friend said, “and they have to show identification for each purchase.”
I asked about the rationing. Surely, I asked, the brand must want to sell as many as possible?
“Yes, but there just aren’t enough handbags being made right now,” my friend explained, “they’re mostly made by hand, you see, and they’re definitely not made in China”.
I nodded and expressed surprise that the demand for handbags should be so high at this point, when the pandemic hasn’t fully receded and most people — wealthy or not — have had a chance to reappraise their lives and think about what really matters.
My friend, who works at the brand, expressed shock at the mindless spending. The word “obscene” came to mind, my friend said, describing the long queues at the iconic store of the iconic brand. “I couldn’t believe it, initially.”
I thought about those handbags — £5,000 apiece and subject to severe, near-wartime rationing — long after my friend drove off home.
What does it really signify? Perhaps, that we need as a society, to reimagine prosperity? For, what is prosperity really? Obviously not a £5,000 handbag every two months, but if not that…what?
In search of an answer I turned to a Financial Times piece (paywall) written by Henrietta Moore, founder and director of The Institute for Global Prosperity at the University College London.
Ms Moore described a four-year research programme in east London, which had “created a local prosperity index based on what local residents said prosperity meant to them, what factors supported their ability to prosper and live good lives, and what factors hindered them”.
She quoted the index to have established that “human infrastructure” matters hugely, ie public transport, affordable or free childcare, social care and low or no-cost digital services. Also a sign of prosperity, she said, is the following: “good quality and genuinely affordable homes, a sense of inclusion in the economic and social life of the city, rewarding work, life-long learning, good health, a healthy environment to live in and having hope for the future”.
Now, that’s riches.