The two major things that drive the US economy are personal consumption and military spending. With this post, I will try to convince you that is a basic problem for us as a country. It thwarts happiness and is a wasteful way to live a life. But the biggest problem is that for too many of us it is the ONLY thing driving our lives. More money, more stuff.
Ironically this is true throughout the economic ladder from the richest of us to the poorest. We think that if we can just get a few more dollars to buy more stuff everything will be better. Most of us have been thoroughly indoctrinated into consumer driving capitalism. For many of us, contrary to what the philosophers say, money can buy happiness, at least temporarily. Or so we believe…
For those on the lower end of the economic spectrum it is another flat screen TV; for those on the upper end, it is a new $50,000 car to replace the two-year-old one we currently have.
Believe it or not, there are other parts of the world that take a very different approach to capitalism. They don’t depend on all of their citizens spending more and more year after year. Instead, much of the profits of their version of capitalism is used for the overall good of the country and its citizens. Those countries have an infinitely better infrastructure. Potholes and failing bridges are not the norms for them. Even more importantly they provide health care for all their citizens and security for their senior citizens. Every statistic taken shows that they are much happier than we are even if they don’t have multiple storage lockers filled with junk.
How do we as a country get out of the “more and more” mentality and into something that makes us happier? That is the question of the day for me.
4 thoughts on “The Fallacy of Consumer Driven Capitalism”
There are some small hopes out there. The FIRE movement is one. Financial Independence Retire Early. Young professionals that build up their assets and semi retire very young. These people could have very high incomes indefinitely but have decided to live on very low incomes and limit their consumption. This allows them to do what ever they want with their time. While it is limited mostly to folks with incomes over $100K yr. it is an example of well heeled consumers turning their backs on consumerism. The small house movement is another example available to almost everyone. The majority of Americans have almost no interest in either of these. It will take a very long time or an earth shattering event.
Yes Fred, as you say, there are some small hopes out there. I didn’t know the movement had a name but I have come across it now and then. The ICU nurse who took care of me after my brain surgery last years. Said she works in 6-month intervals and then takes time off to travel. She has been doing this for 4 years now and being an RN with a pretty extensive resume never has trouble finding work where she chooses to stop. That is an interesting way to do it, isn’t it?
Given that, in the future when robotics has reached its peak won’t be needed for the current 40 or more work week. FIRE may just jumpstart that.
I have been watching the “tiny house” movement for a few years now and am convinced that I could live in a 300 sq ft house on a permanent basis. Now, if I could just convince my wife to do it we could make it happen. 🙂 I currently live in a 40 sq ft micro-RV for 6 – 7 trips a year and it suits me just fine. Living on less is more freeing than most people realize.
I think this is an excellent question posed in a most thoughtful manner
As consumers, we all want convenience in our shopping for food, clothing, and shelter. Today’s society has changed drastically from 20 years ago, when we did want “stuff”. After my children became independent, I’ve been “recycling”, “reducing”, and “reusing” all that stuff I’ve accumulated. Gen X and Millennials do not have the mindset of accumulation, as you suggest. Their homes, furnishings, clothing are indicators of their more minimalist lifestyle. They have much less discretionary income than the Baby Boomers had at this time in their family life cycle. They are conscious of the 3 Rs of discarding product, and tend to focus more on services and technology, rather than buying more stuff. At least that has been my observation of the different generational cohort groups and their consumption.