Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

November 14, 2008

End of Consumerism?

As I listened to Talk of the Nation this evening, I heard an interesting notion being thrown out there, that we may be seeing the end of “The age of consumerism”. Really? Have we really gotten to that point? I’ve talked many times about reducing consumption, and I do truly believe that somewhere therein lays our future economic model. A lot of people – bloggers, pundits, activists and ordinary folks alike – are out there touting the benefits of abandoning our consumerist ways. Back to the land, simple living, DIYers or whatever the reason, there is one thing that we need to keep in mind. Whether or not we like it, we need an economy in this world. If it should it be a global or a local one I don’t pretend to know, but it will mean that we are consumers to some point. Some kind of goods or services will be exchanged. As I said, I’ve talked about this before, and I stand by my general belief that we need to reduce what we consume. I don’t, however, think that we should try to eliminate consumption, or should hold as the ultimate goal, for that matter, the elimination of consumption. But I do think that we should take a look closely at how we’ve been doing it.

As I see it, the conundrum with the whole consumerist - vs. - non-consumerist argument is that the conventional wisdom holds that economic growth is the solution to our economic problems, and that more buying is at the root of our economy. Buy more…better economy…where’s the argument right? More people buy stuff, which means more money is floating around, which means that more people get hired to service the buyers, which puts more money back into the system; it’s trickle-down economics at its core. Well the argument is valid if we take it at face value, but we aren’t are we. We’re not actually buying things when we’re out shopping. Alright some of us are, but most folks have been out there charging it or financing it. Don’t mistake that for buying, it is not the same thing. It’s merely a promise to buy something a little at a time. If that person and oh…200,000 or so friends of his… default on their loans, debts, credit cards, homes and whatever else, the manufacturers are left holding the bag. They can’t then pay their debtors, who in return say “Screw this!! I’m just gonna hold on to my money before I lose more!” And then you reach the point at which we find ourselves today don’t you? It’s financial gridlock or, to coin a phrase, “Trickle-up economic crisis.”

Take a look at the past 35 years with me. In 1972-75 and again in 1980-82, we had two 2 year recessions that were caused primarily by “oil shocks” where our need outpaced what we produced or could import. In the late 80’s/early 90’s we had another recession mainly attributed to a decrease in Industrial production and manufacturing-trade sales (Read: Chrysler (Sound familiar?)) And then in the late 90’s we had the infamous “dot-com” bubble burst. All three, whether energy based, manufacturing based or investment based, caused a major glitch in our economic system at the time. Right now we’re looking at all of them at the same time. Our housing bubble has burst, energy prices though lower right now have just come down from historic highs and OPEC is trying to get them back up there soon and the “heart of our industrial and manufacturing base”, the auto industry, is poised for bankruptcy. Add to that the fact that our banks are flailing and looking for ever more of our taxpayer dollars which can only cause enormous inflation in the future and the downward spiraling stock market and we’re looking at some tough times ahead whether we like it or not; many are already feeling them.

So let’s revisit that notion of reduced consumerism shall we? Let’s say that we don’t buy as much stuff, but when we do buy stuff we actually do BUY it. (Meaning of course that we pay for it with real money at the time we purchase it.) So now, the money that is flowing into the system is real money, meaning that it has been spent and transferred in ownership and can now be invested, loaned, kept or used for other REAL purchases. Wouldn’t the economy still grow? Wouldn’t there still be the opportunity to build wealth and use a free market, albeit perhaps a more equitable one? I can’t help but believe that it would be a more stable one. What if we started to embrace the idea of a green economy, where we were employing people in the professions of building and maintaining our own power so that then the money that we were spending on power could stay here in our economy as well rather than to send it oversees. What if we looked at our homes, not as banks to pull money out of when we wanted a new toy or wanted to pay off the ones we already bought and where we don’t even know the neighbors name but can tell you what kind of car he drives, but rather saw them as long term commitments where we helped to build communities and raise our kids. What would that be like huh? How would it be if we saved some of our money and invested it in our local banks, banks that by the way are one of the only sectors of the banking industry to be still afloat on its own? Am I being “pie in the sky here?” Is it possible? I don’t know but I’m tired of living the other way. I will still consume. I have to, and so too do you most likely. But I do know that the way I consume is changing and that’s for sure.

And look on the bright side, if we handle this the right way, maybe we’ll see a much better foundation on the other side.
Here's to hope!!

I wanted to clarify something from the article as well. It stated that “…President Bush's advice when asked, after the 9/11 attacks, what Americans should be doing. He urged Americans to keep shopping.” That isn’t actually completely accurate, although it does cut to the core of it. What he actually did say was “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.“ and at the time I think that that was good advice. We had been hit by something beyond our control, and we were scared. Our economy suffered then, but it could be healed by “business as usual”. He did however directly urge us to keep shopping in another speech, much more recently, when in a Dec. 2006 speech he stated, “A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country -- and I encourage you all to go shopping more.” Just holding the media to a modicum of accountability there.


Chiot's Run said...

I agree completely. It's frustrating when it seems like everyone encouraging others to spend to boost the economy. Our country's financial situation is like someone's personal situation when they're spending more than they make. Eventually it will all come to a head and painful actions will have to be taken.

Mr Chiot's and I have taken drastic steps over the last 6 years to reduce our consumption of produced products. We're trying to buy more ingredients and produce our own things (like food).

It should be interesting to see what happens in the next couple years! I'm just hoping we can get our house paid off ASAP so we can live on next to nothing and weather this storm without too much damage.

Anonymous said...

P~...I agree with you. Even if everyone in the world were to follow the Path to Freedom folks there would still be the need for garden tools, bulk grains, glass/plastic storage containers, milled lumber, fabric, stoves, fuel, appliances, etc. So yes, we will still have a consumer society. I don’t think that is really the question.

The question, to me, is more whether the American religion will continue to be Consumerism. In other words, will people continue to believe that eternal happiness is always just a purchase away?

I admit that there is a certain critical mass of “things” that someone needs to have a basic level of happiness. The real individual question here is “How much is enough?” How much do I really need to be spending/saving?

I personally believe that happiness is a decision (as corny as it sounds) and that you can cultivate it though your choices in activities and with friends/family. I’ll be interested to see if this economic crisis changes the fundamental idea of finding happiness through purchasing (my definition of Consumerism), or if it is only seen as a frustrating set-back that delays the purchasing of their happiness.

Anonymous said...

Mercy!!! Much food for thought!! I do not know if i can rightly put my thoughts on paper(so to speak). Yes, i believe you are right, we will always be consumers to some degree. That is not a bad thing,we all need to make money to pay ceasar. We make that money buy offering goods and services folks really need. Our culture, does not promote such. Rather make as much as you can however you can. Not that making money, or having a lot is nessesarily a bad thing. I think it is kinda what Eric was sayin, thinking that money or STUFF is going to make you happy. So our way of thinking is critical. Our influences are critical-what we allow to influence our thinking. Many thoughts here-personally we believe the more you make ,the more you otta be giving(of your own choices NOT who the government deems)to others, or organizations. Also in my Faith,we want to live by the Holy Scriptures--be content, give, love and enjoy God and all HE has given. I know i am rambleing-sorry. I Do thank you for this thought provoking post.
Susy, i think you are so right to want to get outta debt as quickley as possible-wise.
Last thought (here ;-) ), i don't watn there to be an end of consumerism really. I LOVE having choices in the market place. I just wish there would be an end to the LOVE OF MONEY!! And thinking as Eric wisely said *Happiness is one more purchase away*thinking. tp

Phelan said...

I was writing this huge commentary on why we feel so entitled, why we don't actually work for what we want. But than deleted it. I don't have enough coffee in me yet to defend my thoughts.

ilex said...

I read "Deep Economy" by Bill McKibben recently. He points out the folly of endless growth, basing an economy on shopping and the whims of stock markets, ignoring ecological and raw material limits, etc. It's a great read, if a bit on the crunchy side now and again. I have to say I came away with a much better understanding of where we need to go.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you p, I'm not on the end of consumerism bandwagon either. Although, I agree there needs to be a persception change and a change in the way we spend. You talk about having the money floating out there and I try very hard to be responsible for where my consumer dollar goes. I want it to support my local economy, I want to help my neighbors keep their jobs or at the very least buy american made products, creat american jobs, businesses. But it is a very hard thing to do in our time. And I'm not saying screw the rest of the world here either, but more like helping to take care of your own, and being responsible....I don't know, maybe I'm with phelan and I need a cup a joe....(not that I have any in the house, but here we go again!)

Anonymous said...

I also second reading Deep Economy. Excellent book.

I am hoping that we are seeing the end of excessive consumerism, or as consumerism as a religion as Eric commented.