#26A: Consumerists are those who believe in the
fundamental importance of the role that purchasing goods and services
plays in either their own individual lives, national free market
economies, or both. While
the term is generally applied at the individual level—as in the above
worldview theme description —one can imagine the term's increasing use
at the national level. Just
as monetarists are those who stress the importance to a nation's economy
of changes in the money supply, replace "money supply" with
"consumer spending" and you've defined a consumerist at this
higher level. In the
USA—with 4.5% of the world's population but 20% of global economy
activity, with consumer spending having grown from 61% of national gross
domestic product in 1980 to over 70% in 2009—most
economists are consumerists.
Not surprising given demand created by household buying drives
>70% of economic activity.
Where does demand come from?
Critics charge that much of it is artificially created by
advertising—an industry whose annual U.S. expenditures are ~$150
billion (or $500/person), representing 37% of global ad expenditures.
By 2008 it was clear that American consumers could not afford
much of what they bought. U.S. household debt as a percentage of
disposable annual income had grown from 70% of national gross domestic
product in 1980 to over 136%.
Continuing discussion of consumerism at the national level might
first find us talking about consumption functions, marginal propensity
to consume, discounting the future, and later shift to global topics
like purchasing power parity, the growing U.S. trade deficit,
globalization and the explosive growth of Chinese and Indian
consumerism. Despite that
growth, in 2007, on a per capita basis, American consumers still
outspent their counterparts in China and India by sixty times!
Instead of continuing the discussion at that level, instead
imagine yourself as a dedicated American consumerist.
perhaps one could say that I'm happiest when I'm shopping, I am sensible
about it! I don't do
"shop until you drop!" I
am careful to avoid getting maxed out on a particular credit card, and
generally try to use them to save money: getting discounts, rebates,
coupons, frequent flyer miles or whatever for my purchases.
I try to distinguish "needs" from "wants!"
Yes, sometimes when I'm down I reward myself and indulge in
"instant gratification," but I avoid impulse buying!
I'm not addicted to shopping, nor a "prisoner" who does
what advertisers want: I'm certainly able to resist the majority of
those "pusher" attempts to hook me!
Especially TV propaganda— can you imagine listening to all
that? My hat is off to whoever invented the "mute" button!
I've been told 15% of TV time in the 1960s went for commercials
and now it's 30%! Years ago
I heard that the average household encountered 1600 advertising messages
per day—today I bet it's far more!
Can you imagine life on the internet without spam filters?
While I prefer shop-ping malls, during the Christmas season I
will shop online to avoid crowds. Given
what parking lots look like, I believe that "Sacred Santa"
stuff about how important Christmas sales are to the economy!
But shopping as a religion?
For me? No way! *************************************************** In
many respects, today's consumers have it much better than shoppers of a
half century ago. (See
Figure #26b.) Consider some
consumer history. As the
1960s began, a movement to protect American consumers, both from health
and safety dangers that products or services might pose and from unfair
business practices such as fraud, misrepresentation, and collusion, was
building. By 1962 President
Kennedy identified certain rights (to safe products, to file complaints,
etc.) that latter, when expanded, formed The Consumer Bill of Rights.
Parts of it have become law.
By 1985 the United Nations embraced consumer rights and
identified eight (see Figure #26a).
While 1920s' conspicuous consumption was tempered by depression
and world war, since then American consumer excess has soared to new
heights: super size drinks, an obesity epidemic, McMansions, roads full
of huge SUVs, big screen TVs, Christian televangelists preaching God
wants you to have abundant wealth, outlandish corporate executive pay
packages, and an increasingly "Winner Take All Society." "Small is beautiful" was regionally popular in
the 1970s, but it was no match for "more is better!"
Carter urged shared sacrifice—turning down thermostats, putting on
sweaters— in responding to the energy crisis, he was widely ridiculed!
The frontier closed, but the individualistic frontier spirit that
made America great is still alive, some say.
Critics counter that the country is like a child who never grew
up! Like a parent soothing
a child hurt in a fall with candy, after the horrible blow on 9/11/2001,
President Bush urged Americans to go shopping.
They did--spending record amounts--and by 2009 America was battling economic crisis. Critics like Peter Morales connected. the two. "In the US and much of the world we have worshipped the false god of consumerism. And this crisis is the result."
Rights of Consumers*
back to worldview theme(s) #26