Monday, May 5, 2008

Building the Consumer Fixated Society

The Gospel of Consumption | Orion magazine

In this Orion Magazine article, Jeffrey Kaplan details the evolution of what one industrial consultant of the late 1920's called "the gospel of consumption" - otherwise known as the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn't enough. As President Herbert Hoover's 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed: “By advertising and other promotional devices . . . a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” They were flush with excitement about this conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

Kaplan points out what this has led to in the U.S.: 2000 the average married couple with children was working almost five hundred hours a year more than in 1979. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce.

Spinning our wheels ever faster. And then we wonder why the environmental systems are collapsing around us.

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