Monday, May 25, 2009

Jo on the merits of Consumerism

After having disappeared to parts unknown for the last long while, today sees the return of every ones favorite guest poster: Johannes Boegershausen (nice surname huh?) from Germany. Read away at his wonderful thoughts below... DO IT

Recently while sorting the papers and folders that accumulated during my undergraduate studies, I rediscovered some older notes of mine that I prepared for an essay about consumerism and its critics in a course about globalization. As this topic has received reasonable attention amid the current crisis, this short blog entry will highlight some of the key ideas of this argument briefly.

“We all know that Coke “adds to life” and Toyota open our eyes to show as that “nothing is impossible”. Obviously we are living in a commercial age, but what’s this consumer culture about?
Consumption of goods and services as such is a typical human activity. However, some argue that most of today’s consumption in the Western world is consumption in excess of needs. Consumerism is associated with dysfunctional societies, in which shopaholics are bound together by shop-bought items rather than by cultural identity. Following this notion, most consumers buy products for the social identity they bestow on them (e.g. Adidas shoes, Rolex watches, BMW cars etc.). Moreover, the excessive consumerism may negatively affect the environment as well as the health of the consumers (just think about overeating fast food etc.). While there is undoubtedly some truth in this criticism of consumers, one may right ask what are the alternatives? Many of the critics of consumerism call for legislation and regulation to limit consumerism. But what are the consequences?

Libertarians tend to defend consumerism by stating that economic materialism is natural. However, there is a more convincing argument pro-consumerism: consumer behavior (and thus shopping and consumeristic behavior) is obviously driven by the personal decision making of each consumer. Subsequently, the only way to limit excessive consumption beyond needs is the personal decision of each individual. It should be noted, that the term “needs” itself is full of ambiguity, just think of luxury goods – are they per se waste or excessive consumption? Can needs be defined by an authority/state agency in democracy? Rather not. The only other model to eliminate consumerism is to introduce systems with centralized planning and sumptuary laws (welcome back GDR and Soviet Union) – a vision not even popular among the most persistent critics of consumerism…

Just do it.

No comments: