The myth of consumerism

consumerismConsumerism (noun): Advocacy of an excessive or wasteful rate of consumption and spending as a basis for a sound economy.

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.

7 responses to “The myth of consumerism

  1. Great explaination for a complex subject Steve. Just to expand on your idea, i was taught by a Engineering teacher a long time ago what money was. He explained money was Energy Transferance. He said a bucket of crude oil contains about 55 man hours of energy, and for the few dollars it costs is a very economic source of energy and good value for money. The worst economic exchange of energy transferance is man hour for man hour, by that i mean swaping the money you make per hour for the time it takes for someone to produce a product by hand. Unless of course their hourly rate of pay is less than yours. At which point you the buyer would profit from the exchange. I personaly don’t see commerce as a bad thing but find the way that it’s done as ridiculous. The bullshit “slowly improve and refine method” that is done to produce new variants of the same technology is what causes a “wasteful” society of consumers. Just look at the rubbish tips in Japan for proof. What the Japanese see as obsolete and outdated as a usefull tool or item would be seen as a cutting edge item in a third world nation. Thid is what i see as the problem in a consumer society. Lets say if the ultimate personal computer was created to which no improvements was possible or needed. How many of these would we find on the rubbish heaps in Japan 6 months later or even ten years further on? So i say that the blame for a wasteful consumer society must lay with not the consumer or the producer, but with the people responsible for the ideas and design of todays products. As i said in another earlier comment to a different blog, researchers need to find a better way to find the knowledge that then produces the products we need. And saying its not possible or too difficult is not a excuse either. If people desire the glory and tewards of excellence then be excellent and excel……but don’t half do it. Be different to all the others….be “Most Excellent”!!!!!…

    • Thanks again, Nige. This is the second time you have referred to the idea of “leaping ahead” to some kind of ultimate solution. Is this just wishful thinking, or do you have some idea how? Personally I am a strong believer that utopia does not and cannot exist and that change is the only constant.

      • But I am willing to be persuaded otherwise, because I know that I don’t know a lot.

      • Sorry Steve about my slow replies but i have been very busy. As i said in earlier posts, i won’t go into great detail on this finding all knowledge process but it is a very possibility. Actuality actualy….lol. But here is a hinter. It involves logos (letters) and most probably a quatum computer or at least as powerful and a little time for the two to mix. For a further hinter of something similar checkout the Serif Yetzirah, the Jewish book of formation. That’s the best i can do for the moment mate. You understand no doubt.

      • Oh, and Steve old buddy, you really shouldn’t “believe”. I spoke with you before about beliefs being a limiting factor and hence limiting your intellect. You need to undo what others have persuaded you that you needed….your belief system. It’s the first step back to reality mate. You will then see things for what they really are.

  2. If people buy silly things because they want to keep up with the Jones, or because it was easier to let someone else decide what they should buy, or because they were oblivious to the responsibility of reflecting on and making manifest their own value system, it’s their own fault if their spending habits leave them feeling empty! No evil dictator is commanding a central philosophy of “consumerism”. Thats the point of free market capitalism. (And thanks for the reference Steve)

  3. I enjoyed the blog and the comments very much. I have recently begun thinking more about where I spend my money. I have found a lot of waste. I am now committed to eliminating the waste. I still feel the urge to spend foolishly, but I am able to see through the desire and eliminate the amount of junk I bring into my life.

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