In Defense of Consumerism
Posted by PintofStout on May 18, 2006
Lew Rocwell’s article today for the Mises Institute, “In Defense of Consumerism,” is defending the idea of a booming economy with technical and logistical innovation. In all the aspects that he described, I didn’t see what I considered consumerism. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition lists three definitions for “consumerism” (courtesy of Dictionary.com). The first two listed, touting the benefits of protecting the consumer (a market reaction) and the increased consumption of products being good for the economy, are what Mr. Rockwell is referring to and defending. What I associated with the word consumerism was the third definition: “Attachment to materialistic values or possessions.” What we speak of are related, for sure, but the connotation of this term “consumerism” differs with the audience.
The innovation of products and availability of products have made everybody’s lives easier. The vastness of choices we have can cater to a multitude of different needs. But for all the added ease to our material lives, have we thus been able to focus on issues of spirituality or emotional well-being? It seems we are distracted by all the stuff too much to think about non-material things.
Humans are emotional creatures. It is evident in the inability to plan and predict the economy accurately based on everyone’s rational self-interest. Rational. But, alas, being emotional creatures and acting in irrational ways on account of it, we are rather unpredictable. Perhaps that would explain the irrational absorption into material goods to the detriment of our emotional well-being. According to the third definition from above, and my personal connotation of the term, consumerism has gotten many, including myself unfortunately, into a trap of purchasing as much as we possibly can (instead of as much as we possibly need or rationally want) and then being stuck in jobs as wage slaves that make us eminently unhappy to pay for the consumption. Then to ease our tired and chained souls from the strain of working so danged hard, we purchase more and more in a futile attempt to make ourselves happy, for which we have to work even more to pay for, making us unhappier which we ease by consuming more…and the trap clenches down harder.
I am definitely not saying that society should produce less or consume less as a rule, and I’m certainly not going to enforce an opinion by rule of law, but if the cycle of work-spend-work is to be broken, one must make the decision to consume less. Once a savings is built and the need to work is reduced, the sense of freedom will be quite profound. I’m also not advocating living in poverty (although many people find pleasure and freedom in reducing dependence and complexity). Everything in moderation is a decent rule. Consume for entertainment and luxury, but don’t go overboard. If everyone would happen to make the rational decision to not spend all of their wages and consume no more than they rationally had to, innovation wouldn’t suffer so much as to stop or even slow down.
Being sometimes irrational creatures, though, we can only acknowledge the benefits to breaking the work-spend trap, and then try to make wiser choices. Hopefully the rational moments outnumber the irrational moments and we can slowly release ourselves from that horrible trap that consumes us even as we over-consume.