Capitalism = Consumerism?

Does capitalism and consumerism fall hand in hand, or are they separate entities? In our current society, consumerism is king, but this consumerism has been grown in the soil of laissez faire capitalism. Is consumerism an effect of which capitalism is the cause?

Is capitalism sustainable without consumerism? Conversely, is consumerism possible without capitalism?

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15 Comments on “Capitalism = Consumerism?”

  1. bearmarketnews Says:

    Are perfect people required for a perfect world?

    In a perfect world with perfect people, capitalism and consumerism would likely be sustainable.

    Given the imperfections we have created on our imperfect world by imperfect people, we have arrived at a state of being where neither capitalism nor consumerism can be sustainable. It is highly unlikely that we can change from here to there without experiencing some major collateral damage.

  2. John Gelles Says:

    In my view, capitalism is all about money — and consumerism is all about what money can buy.

    In a certain sense they are opposite sides of a coin that people crave — and will work to own.

    Wanting a better world than the one we were used, to requires us to improve the store of the necessities of life that will serve the population of decent people all around us.

    Should we work to grow and make the necessities in short supply?

    What about the money that is used to buy them?

    Obviously, we must work.

    Not obvious is the best approach to money — which was invented, say, millions of years after we invented work.

    It was a very long time after money was invented that ideas implied by words like “capitalism” and “consumerism” began to be studied — even questioned — seriously.

    In my opinion, the search for a better world must focus more on concrete definitions of the necessities of life currently in short supply than on words of a more general nature like the two in question.

    As a practical choice, I would define improvement in terms like water, food and medicine. I would leave more general words for thoughts that may occur when we list what we need and how to best find or make it.


  3. I appreciate the time taken to read the lengthly essays on my blog ‘Faith & Reason Collide’. Its good to see another intellectual out here fighting the good fight.
    Peace,
    William
    wjholland.wordpress.com

  4. pinkindustry Says:

    I often think of consumerism’s political power along these lines. Imagine I went for a haircut and the barber, a Mr. Sweeney Todd ended up turning me into a meat pie. According to consumerism I now have the right to boycott his shop. Yes what if you end up being consumed yourself? And how is it that refers to their fellow human beings as consumers?

  5. Peter Barden Says:

    I think Marx’s reading of commodity fetishism in Capital is at least helpful here. He suggests that commodities are, of course, necessary in any social system, functioning dually as having both a use value and an exchange value, etc (see first three chapters of Capital for the extended version).

    The question of the social relation between capitalism and consumerism is contingent on a number of other relationships (the state, natural resources, utility, level of industrial development etc), however for a quick and easy point of view both Capitalism and Consumerism rely on an ideologically sustained notion of accumulation without end, which both also rely fundamentally on a psychologically sustained notion of ‘lack’ which causes the drive to accumulate.

    I agree with Pink on the inevitability of capitalism and consumerism eating themselves, but as I think the GFC has shown quite aptly Marx’s analysis that capital is ultimately the great undead – like the rise in lycans and vampires in popular culture, you kill these creatures and they keep coming back to life. Perhaps this phase of capitalism is quite different from past incarnations: not only is no one actively trying to kill it (except perhaps Goldman Sachs who made billions out of the crash), we’re all actively engaged in trying to keep it alive (a la Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).

    Not only this, a quick comparison between the panicked rush to save the banks to avert (a type of) financial catastrophe, and the half-hearted talk-fest at Copenhagen six months later. Saving Capital is much more important than possibly saving the world.

  6. Savant Noir Says:

    Ironically enough those core group of 300 elitist (whom comprise the Executive Board of the Club of Rome and thru Agenda 21 and the Earth Charter Initiative) have successfully conducted a global smear campaign against both capitalism and consumerism, are themselves positioned to make $23 TRILLION annually! On Al Gore’s Generations Investment Management site, he states “that there is an untapped market with estimated annual sales of $13 TRILLION annually”. The Chicago Climate Exchange (owned by many CoR members, such as Maurice Strong, Al Gore, Mikhail Gorbachev, and all the usual players) has stated publically that they anticipate annual sales of $10 TRILLION.

    SO while you and I must free ourselves from the evil of wealth and consumerism, they are raping the world of 33% of the entire annual WORLD GDP!

    ….and you wonder why they are so against US having money?

  7. danielg92 Says:

    I think a good reading of Ludwig von Mises would be helpful here. In his work, “Human Action”, he explained that all human decisions (including but not limited to economic decisions) are based on the urge to ease a felt uneasiness. Consumerism is ultimately driven by the urge to reduce a felt uneasiness. I prefer life with a cellphone than without because it’s more convenient than using pay phones, so I buy a cellphone. I believe meals are more pleasurable if I finish them by eating ice cream, so I buy ice cream, and so on.

    I reject Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism because people don’t mindlessly hoard possessions for the sake of the possessions, they make decisions on how to use their limited income to best suit their desires for comfort. The law of diminishing marginal utility illustrates this, basically it states that as you gain more of a single commodity, each subsequent unit of that commodity is less useful. For example, my brother just got a PS3 to play video games. Since a single PS3 allows him to satisfy his urge to play, I have not heard him request another PS3. Rather, he has other desires to fulfill with his next $300.

    To me, the question of whether Capitalism is sustainable is ridiculous. The price system under Capitalism forces people to use their scarce resources to best fulfill their desires. Scarcity is going to be the same no matter what economic system you have, and so is the human urge to improve his circumstances. The freedom of choice under capitalism is the best way to ensure that the world’s resources are used to best satisfy everyone’s desires.

    • Peter Barden Says:

      Hi Daniel, thanks for the post. I’m a bit surprised that you’ve brought up von Mises here, even Milton Freedman thought he was a bit extreme:

      “The story I remember best happened at the initial Mont Pelerin meeting when he got up and said, “You’re all a bunch of socialists.” We were discussing the distribution of income, and whether you should have progressive income taxes. Some of the people there were expressing the view that there could be a justification for it.

      Another occasion which is equally telling: Fritz Machlup was a student of Mises’s, one of his most faithful disciples. At one of the Mont Pelerin meetings, Fritz gave a talk in which I think he questioned the idea of a gold standard; he came out in favor of floating exchange rates. Mises was so mad he wouldn’t speak to him for three years. Some people had to come around and bring them together again. It’s hard to understand; you can get some understanding of it by taking into account how people like Mises were persecuted in their lives.”

      As for your rejection of Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism, I wouldn’t be too hasty – you really can’t think of anyone who hoards money for the sake of having money? The banking system would be a little disappointed to hear of your observation of human nature.

  8. Savant Noir Says:

    Both Ludwig von Mises and Marx’s ideas (as you have presented them here in such a truncated fashion) are at once both correct and incorrect. ALL human action is enslaved to ego-gratifications in either that will be either ego-systonic or ego-dystonic. But this should not be expanded to necessarily say consumerism is at all times ego-driven. Excessive consumerism would be, such as a in a person that is overly materialistic, and that this materialism impedes or is detrimental to adaptive social functioning.

    Conversely, ‘commodity fetishism’ is a possibility (as illustrated above), but again is not absolute (and discounting for the moment that a ‘fetishism’ by correct psychological definition must have an organic cathexsis).

    The problem is not Capitalism, but rather the fact that there has not truly been a free-enterprise system in this country for almost 100 years. Capitalism in conjunction with free-markets gave rise to the United States becoming the greatest power in the history of the world, and in the shortest time. As ‘capitalism’ is in its death throes because of the assault it has been under (and the worst is yet to come), we will all plunge into the dark ages. One thing for certain, we are in the midst of a truly bi-partisan agenda…because when the coffin lid shuts, both the Left and the Right will suffocate equally. (it’s just the Left will go out licking their Master’s feet, while clueless what the Master has in store for them)

  9. Savant Noir Says:

    (whoa, my sentence structure sucked…I am 2 day sleepless…you will have to interpret what I conveyed. lol)

    • Heather Says:

      This is an interesting post and touches on something I’ve been trying to figure out for awhile.
      I feel like if I can break through some semantic divisions I can show many people who think they are this or that, realize that what they hope for are actually the same thing.

      First, do we have capitolism (as defined as free-markets)right now. This is an important question because if people are going to rail against capitolism as being an evil system responsible for our social, and environmental injustices, and they are using our current economic system as the example…we should probably understand the beast we are really looking at.

      I don’t think we have a free-market capitolistic economy and we haven’t for as long as a company can get large and rich enough to buy laws and politicians. Laws which created incorporation have created such companies…and the laws they influence do a great deal more to barr the entry of competitors then they do to enhance a free economy.

      What we really have is a subsidized economy which in turn fuels a subsidized government.

      I live in a hill town full of super greeny hippies that seem to think they are socialist because they view socialism as the opposite of what we have now, but if I ask them “would you prefer to have more or less laws dictating your right to grow a garden and less the surplus at a roadside stand?”. They say less everytime which starts a discussion. Many end up learning that their hopes and desires for personal freedom, align their beliefs more strongly with non-corporate libertarians and Adam Smith economics, than with socialism.

      Ok, that wasn’t quite on-topic. Let me tie it in. Our current supposed capitolism does not reflect the natural state of our consumerism. Industrial-media-governmental complexes are actually dictating our needs while fooling us into thinking they came from inside of us. An example of this is the Direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns created to sell more prescription drugs. They are constantly inventing problems where their pill is the solution.

      Now in a free market that might not really be a problem because their pills would be too expensive and we’d evaluate their necessity against our limited budget. But because we have a tax-payer subsidized economy, price becomes a non-barrier with legislation like the prescription drug act. The government is at the same time killing their bed-partners competition by demonizing, fining, and sometimes imprisioning practitioners of alternate medicine, and those making claims of health benefits of natural remedies and nutrition.

      So I think that free markets and consumerism exist in a balanced state….but our subsidized psueo capitalistic country flames a heightened level of consumerism to serve the supply sides interest to grow or die.

      I just read a novel called “The Jefferson Project” that describes a brilliant way out of this corrupt mess. Yes it’s fiction but the ideas are really meaty for people interested in this topic speculating a perfect government.

      • pbarden Says:

        Not sure exactly what you’re advocating here Heather – an Ayn Rand style of free-market capitalism? You did notice the Global Financial Crisis from your hill town, didn’t you?

  10. Heather Says:

    Whoa. I should proofread before submitting. I meant “SELL the surplus at a roadside stand”. Not “LESS the surplus”.

  11. Heather Says:

    I’d advocate a government that stopped shilling out corporate welfare…and which stopped creating barriers to entry for new kids on the block. The global financial crisis is such a crisis because the players are so big and because corporate investing is so speculative and the government does too much to facilitate that.

    • pbarden Says:

      I LOVE this term ‘advocate’. It is evocative.

      But you’ve not presented a solution to the symptoms you are describing.

      You give good criticism, sure, but do you give good solution?

      PB


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