I’m the type of consumer businesses hate. I just don’t buy that much. The last time I bought a new item of clothing was probably at least a year ago. It’s not that I’m overly frugal, it’s just that I don’t like shopping. I don’t see the point. There’s so little I truly need.
I also don’t like being told what I should want. I don’t have a cable TV subscription in large part because I hate commercials. If I need something, I’ll find out about it myself, thank you very much. And if I buy it, it won’t be because your company told me I’ll be happier/prettier/etc. if I own it.
Nonetheless, I can’t escape being a part of consumer culture. None of us can, because consumption is the driving force of our economic system, and thereby our lives. If everyone was as bad a consumer as I am, our economy would grind to a halt. There would be no more growth. And growth is good, right? If our economy is not growing, we are in trouble.
The thing is, what are we growing for? Is it so we will become richer? Well, we’re not. The average American is getting poorer. Over the last forty years we have added hours to our work schedules and made increasingly less for our efforts.
Does the growth make us happier? Well, we’re not happier. As our GDP has grown, our lives have become increasingly dissatisfying (as measured by other tools, such as genuine progress indicators). Our modern consumer economy, which arose in the aftermath of WWII, really only benefited the average American for a couple decades. Since the 1970s, most of us have been falling behind.
People are beginning to notice. Occupy Wall Street was one example. While that movement may have attracted mostly those in the lower economic classes (at least in terms of who went out and demonstrated), make no mistake: the middle class is also losing out as income inequality rises.
A new book by economist Thomas Piketty seeks to explain our backsliding, which is a trend not limited to the United States. Piketty believes it is possible to reverse growing inequality. That is to say, he is not convinced it is an inevitable outcome of late-stage capitalism.
And he may be right that in an ideal world, political action could be taken to change the course we are on. Just like in an ideal world we would have already dealt with climate change.
But alas and alack, we live in no such world. So I ask the question again: what are we growing for? What is the point of all the production and consumption, if the only substantial benefit is simply more production and consumption?
So I’ll stick to being a bad consumer, because even though it is in my nature to not want to buy much stuff, in this troubled era it also feels like a political action. #lifeofabundance