The concept of consumerism stretches far back to 1915 when its recording started but originally, the phenomenon of buying and consumption of goods in excess and by customers date back to the start of civilization. Consumerism entails a social and economic decree to nurture a culture of purchasing and consuming goods far above one’s basic requirements. This remains a worldwide phenomenon practiced across many societies of the world especially before and after industrial revolution and globalization.
Being an order, consumerism covers consumer protection, which involves protection of the buyers from exploitation in terms of dishonest packaging and advertisement or promotion of consumer goods and services. In this sense, consumerism advocates for setting up of policies to control and regulate the standards of production, manufacturing, and advertisement of goods and services.
Economically, consumerism stresses on the free choices made by consumers to determine the economic trends of a country. This phenomenon of over consumption meets criticism in which most of the critics argue that, it is worth considering such consumption is indeed a wasteful consumption (Glen 28). Here the critiques wonder whether having many dresses would make one dress decently.
Advertisements all over the media, books, and magazines and in streets persuade people to buy materials that they have not planned for, simply because the words used in the advertisements tend to encourage people to buy goods such as cars, clothing, or get new jobs (Glen 29). More materials do not bring a lasting happiness in one’s life.
The happiness brought about by acquiring a new property lasts for a short time, and the lack of satisfaction goes unabated as the desire to acquire a more expensive item sets in, whereby a person thinks he/she will get satisfaction by getting new things and the vicious cycle continues.
True happiness and acquisition of materials
Today’s mindset of many people in both developing and developed countries is to amass wealth through acquisition of more materials and consumption of materials at increasingly higher rate. Economic parameters judging economic growth of a country continue to favor production of goods and their fast consumption.
To the surprise of Luedicke and Giesler, “The more goods produced and consumed in the society the higher the growth rate of the economy” (112). This indicates that, economic growth rate depends largely on the amount of materials, goods or services a person or a family acquires in a society. In these societies, property of the nation is a measure of per capita income of the dwellers of the society and therefore, people buy goods to replace others they presume inadequate in terms of service provision.
Furthermore, in consumer societies, repair of broken items does not exist; instead, people buy new items to replace the broken ones. This continuous purchase of goods helps the economy from receding and depressing and improves employment creation efforts. On the other hand, the desire to own and consume materials in excess causes people to get job opportunities, which they do not enjoy doing or are not happy with, simply because they need money to acquire the much-needed materials.
A comparison between the lives of departed ancestors who had little in their possession and the current life where all is in a cat and rat race to acquire property, there is little happiness now, than it was with the gone grandparents.
According to Barber, “…today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence and slightly less happiness and are at much greater risk of developing depression and assorted social pathology” (108). Desire to purchase more materials arouses the feeling of discontentment and dissatisfaction, which leads to unhappiness within one’s conscience.
Working to earn money for material acquisition deprives one of the time needed in social activities. Social involvement with family, friends, and relationships nurtures happiness. Thus, a person preoccupied with the hope and desire of materialism remains unhappy throughout his/ her life. Barber further explains that, “…when people organize their lives around extrinsic goals such as product acquisition, they report greater unhappiness in relationships, poor moods and psychological problems” (110).
The dissatisfaction posed by desire to have more leads to great expectations and failure to meet the expectations results into outright unhappiness to the affected parties. Happiness brought about by acquisition of a new property such as a car, house, or electronic devices may not last for long as people in consumer societies always buy items to replace others.
Large amount of property acquired by an individual or a family, on the other hand poses a threat of insecurity. As property means wealth, security for the property becomes paramount and a factor worth consideration. Over and above the cost of purchase of the property, there is additional expenses of security provision otherwise one risks losing the acquired property or damage without compensation.
The thought of insecurity can snuff true happiness in the lives of those hankering for consumerism societies. Psychological disturbance resulting from discontentment causes depression, envy, jealousy, and increase in crime rates all in the pursuit of acquiring material goods, but in this sense large amount of goods in the society or communities.
Problems of consumer epidemics
Hungering for goods is a characteristic evident in consumer epidemic societies where people feel dissatisfied. The wishes of people and desires to possess material goods escalate but income determines the purchasing power (Durning 24).
Craving for material goods preoccupies the minds of many people in the consumerism societies and this poses a threat of neglecting other important factors of life sustenance such as social and psychological factors. Thirsting for material goods can also lead people to poor working conditions or extra working to save the much-needed savings, which determines one’s ability to acquire the goods.
Philosophically, increase in ones material wealth determines the economic status of that individual or community or society and therefore, overlying other economic detecting tools in the society such as good social and spiritual values of the society. Graaf, Wann, Naylor, and Vicki however observe that, “Material wealth is the deciding factor whether a society is developing or not, spiritual values are under played” (122).
The quantity of materials owned by the inhabitants of a society remains inadequate to determine the societal development. Other major factors of the society help to propel development in the society and the measurements need not to overlook such factors as they play concerted role with per capita income to economic development.
In addition, problems of consumer good competition steps up in the market as many manufacturing companies produce large quantities of consumer goods hoping for a good sale because people thirst for the goods.
Importation of cheap goods sets further competition between the imported and locally produced goods and these competitions negatively affect the market image of the local goods posing a major problem in the performance of the local manufacturing companies. Poor performance of the local industries can threaten closure of business or can result into reduction in employment opportunities.
Drastic changes in lifestyles of many people occur due to materialism; not based on spiritual or simplistic backgrounds. People are now more reluctant than it was in the past and as Graaf et al. observes, “people’s lifestyles have changed in the sense that they are more lavish, full of material comforts rather than focusing on simplicity” (123).
Philosophers argue that there is a stiff change from the lifestyles exhibited by the older generation and the current generation in which the current generation possesses a stereotype of high consumption generation depicting the ever-increasing desire to gain more wealth through high acquisitions of material goods.
Ecological destruction continues as people push for expansion of industries in production of the much needed goods and materials to quench the spirit of consumerism. There is widely spreading natural habitat destruction due to industrial pollution leading to global warming which in turn sets in health problems to people and wildlife across the world.
Another problem of consumerism is the tumbling of some economic sectors. For instance, the desire of every person in a consumer society to own a car would oversee collapsing of the public transport sector, which would affect economic expansion of the involved community or society.
Criticisms of consumerism
Consumerism as other philosophical phenomena would not go without criticismand disapprovals. According to Barber, “there are four different ways through which an item obtains value and needs considerations during purchase to avoid purchasing of obsolete items” (111). Items of low value and utilityfrom the initialintention lead to subsequent purchase of another item simply because the first item acquired did not satisfy the primary need.
The ways focused here include functional utility, exchange value of the object, symbolic value, and sign value of the items. The phenomenon of consumerism does not put into consideration all these factors before the actual purchase of an item; instead, individuals are led by thirst to acquire property not considering and assessing their usefulness in their lifetime. It is therefore clear that lack of appraisal of items and property before purchase would cause dissatisfaction and then cause a desire to purchase another item.
Critics of consumerism also argue that the close association of some people to specific high value items such as luxury cars and expensive houses creates a social and cultural class of people. Over time, these social and cultural regroupings degenerate into social or cultural dominance of these groups over the others who probably cannot afford the expensive property (Glen 29). The social and cultural grouping kills the native cultural and social trends of the society, which would affect the subsequent generations, as there is a total loss of the indigenous cultural and social practices.
Furthermore, critics argue that, consumerism causes environmental damage as its insensitivity to environmental conservation and preservation puts natural resources into jeopardy and that underscores why critics advocate for change from materialism to simplicity of life where people would only purchase and consume items fit for them at a given time.
Due to the need for the finished goods, industries mushroom all over and their emissions pollute the environment posing a threat of global warming (Graaf et al. 119). Mining and other environmental destructive procedures in pursuit of obtaining raw materials for the sprouting industries lead to environmental degradation, which critics of consumerism oppose.
Graaf et al. warn that, “trying to reduce environmental pollution without reducing consumerism is like combating drug trafficking without reducing drug addiction” (120). This implies that, the critics of consumerism advocate for mitigation of environmental pollution and disintegration via reduction of consumerism.
Economic critics of consumerism argue that, the rate of material consumption outweighs the resources and therefore, sustenance of the high production rate would deplete available resources resulting into an economic recession.
Durning observes that, “…human society is in a global overshoot consuming over 30% more materials than is sustainable from world resources” (26). The sediments here points to the over usage of the available materials in intensive production and manufacturing of unnecessary materials which to many people are only luxury goods and not basic requirements.
In addition, many critics of consumerism oppose the idea of persuading people to purchase certain goods and thus contradict advertisements and promotions by arguing that, people have the right to decide what goods they want to satisfy their needs and need not persuasion to purchase them. In addition, the critics emphasize on peoples’ understanding and decision making concerning the items and property to use. Regular advertisement lures people to develop a desire to possess an item.
On the contrary, critics of consumerism do not agree with the proponents on the idea of consumerism and happiness cum satisfaction associated with it. The critics argue that, true happiness does not depend on the number of materials one posses or the quantity of goods that a person’s consumes but happiness settles at the satisfaction of a persons’ need by use of an appropriate item.
In the pursuit of satisfaction, the inherent desire to gain property deprives one the building blocks and essential ingredients of happiness, which include quality time with family and friends who bring happiness in one’s life. Decrease in time intended for social life impoverishes an individual’s important time to socialize and interact with others and therefore, affects one’s social status and can cause psychological problems.
Although consumerism remains an internationally practiced phenomenon, its initiation to different countries, nations and societies of the world met opposition and not swiftly welcomed. Some societies at first welcomed the idea but as the consequences of consumerism unfolded with time, many turned it away.
At the first glance of consumerism, one might welcome the idea quickly but its negative effects are far above its positive effects and therefore, one would consequently reject and oppose the idea as the critics of consumerism. Consumerism causes social, economic, environmental, and psychological problems in societies and thus, many turn out to reject the idea.
Contrary to previous allegations that there is a relationship between high possession of goods and happiness, philosophers have found that our ancestors lived happily with little possession of material things as compared to the present generation. Life was happier in the gone days than today although people have more material goods than in the past. It is therefore clear that, there is no true happiness, which comes out of acquisition of material goods.
Barber, Benjamin. Consumed: How markets corrupt children, infantalize, and swallow Citizens whole. New York: W.W. Norton & company, 1998.
Durning, Alan. “How much is enough.” The consumer society and the future of the earth 42.6 (2008): 24-26.
Giesler, Markus, and Luedicke, Marius. “Consumption as moral protagonism.” Journal Of consumer research 36.1 (2010):112-114.
Glen, Calder. “Financing the American dream.” A cultural history of consumer credit 67.1 (2007): 28-29. Print.
Graaf, John, Naylor, Thomas, Vicki, Robin, and Wann, David. Afluenza: The all Consuming epidemic.USA: Berrett- Koehler, 2002.