Consumerism has been promoted and criticized, but it has remained an essential part of the modern economy. We are going to talk about what consumerism is and whether it is benign.
Consumerism is a system and a subset of capitalism where it is not enough to simply trade goods and services – people are urged to do so. Its origin lies in the Industrial Revolution. There were too many goods due to overproduction. In order not to waste the time, effort, and resources, the public was urged to acquire more. This has led to some interesting consequences in the modern world.
It quickly became apparent that people wanted to move up in the social rank. This was very natural, as the upper social ranks have, overall, a better quality of life. However, instead of focusing on acquiring the status itself, people have been trying to copy the upper classes with their income.
The results varied, but the gist of it is that people who were not exactly affluent wanted to appear well off and influential, as this affected their business dealings and social acceptance. So started the idea that certain things must be acquired in order to become a respected member of the society, even if one’s personal finances will struggle for it. Employment at a certain company, for example, often meant driving a certain car, vacationing in a certain area, and partaking in certain hobbies.
It is through this that you have average people wearing suits, buying accessories and cars they do not, strictly speaking, need, and take out loans to support their new lifestyle in order to fit in, be accepted and liked, and all-in-all, achieve success, or, at least, create such an appearance.
Of course, consumerism has had a fair share of counter-movements and actions. For example, in an effort to prevent the mass expansion of large retail chains, there is the ‘buy locally’ idea, which promotes stimulating the local economy and its people without acquiring more than you need, even if the price is slightly higher.
Another way to go to fight consumerism is the so-called ‘simple living’, where people acknowledge their necessities and live well within their means in spite of the potential social stigma. Imagine a family that doesn’t have the latest smartphone in spite of the fact that, apparently, everyone else does. In such a family, again, strictly as an example, you would find disposable phones that serve only as essential tools of communication, without relying on excessive options.
The same goes for services like the internet and cable TV. The bigger packages may offer more channels and faster speeds for, overall, less money, but if it is not necessary and might hamper the house budget, people that are not big on consumerism will avoid such plans.
The fact of the matter is that consumerism is necessary for certain situations. However, the idea and the culture behind it, when not needed to take care of the surplus and maintain the economy, simply drain the average consumer to live beyond their means, like taking out loans that seem affordable at first but become more tedious and hard to pay off as the years go by. You may have read articles that are titled something along the lines of: “The Millennials Are Killing the [Product/Service] Industry”. People who are trying to live within their means are often criticized for damaging the economy.