If you’ve ever thought that an economy based on consumers buying stuff they don’t need, then throwing it away and buying more is a stupid idea, then you were right. It is a stupid idea. Nobody with an ounce of common sense would think otherwise.
The idea of consumerism was invented to make you think that the modern global economy is stupid and that we should all go back to simpler lives. It’s an attempt to make capitalism and globalization seem ridiculous. It’s an example of a straw man argument.
Let’s disentangle the truth. The first thing to note about the word is that it creates or reinforces the myth that consumers and producers are different people. Think workers and capitalists, good and evil, exploited and exploiter. The truth is that we all produce and we all consume.
But the really silly part of the consumerism myth is the idea that wasteful consumption of things we don’t need somehow helps the economy.
Consider this scenario. Joe buys a gadget for $100, uses it once then throws it away. According to the consumerism fallacy, this is good for the economy, because the $100 goes to a company that employs workers, so Joe’s money is oiling the wheels of commerce and creating economic growth.
But you don’t have to know much about economics to see that’s nonsense. Here’s what really happens.
Joe buys a gadget that he doesn’t need and gets no benefit from it. He is now $100 poorer. That money has been transferred to a company that uses it to pay its workers and make a profit. There is zero net benefit to the economy.
But consider what would have happened if Joe hadn’t wasted his money on a useless gadget. Now he would have been able to spend $100 on something useful. He would have exchanged his $100 for something worth $100 to him. The company that sold it to him would also have made a profit and the workers would have been paid too. Everyone benefits and the economy grows.
So making and buying useful stuff makes the economy prosper, and buying junk doesn’t. Wasteful consumption impoverishes the consumer and has no net economic benefit. That’s blindingly obvious.
What should also be blindingly obvious is that this is not how the world’s economy works. Consumerism is a fallacy; an economic myth and a strawman invented by those who wish to denigrate capitalism and free trade and make them appear ridiculous and immoral.
It’s designed to make you get angry and shake your fist at the modern world. Instead, take a moment to understand how economics really works and then get angry at the people who tried to fool you.