Posts Tagged ‘consumption’

How Material Are We?

“ ‘Cause everybody’s living in a material world / And I am a material girl,” Madonna sang in 1984. It’s a common refrain, that we are materialistic – obsessed with wealth and goods and consuming – in ways unheard of an earlier eras. But it was heard of in earlier eras.


by Juliet B. Schor

Clearly, Americans of the 21st century have more and consume more than Americans 100 or 200 years ago did. That the closets of old Victorian homes hardly begin to store the stuff that today’s middle-class family owns testifies to that. Yet, because more Americans can afford more things than their ancestors could does not necessarily mean that they are more obsessed with things. (Indeed, one stream of social science research talks about modern people as being “post-materialist” – e.g., here.) For those concerned with a too material world, there are social movements and web sites devoted to pursing the simple life, seeking “freedom from stuff and over-consumption” (e.g., here). This, too, has precedent: some people looked for the simple life in the 19th century. [1] (more…)

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Consume This

This Christmas season and this Great Recession combine to focus media attention on this critical question: Are Americans spending enough? News anchors breathlessly report Black Friday receipts, trends in online shopping, and FedEx shipping loads. If only people would stretch their budgets, use their credit cards more, take a fling or two, and buy! — then the economy would start up, employers would hire more people, and we’d be on our way back to prosperity and full employment. Even sober economists agree.


At the same time, many of us (sometimes the same people) worry that all that buying is highly wasteful and highly polluting. Making, shipping, and shopping for all those goods are literally ruining the planet. Critiques of consumption as being immorally wasteful go back centuries (see this earlier post). So, is spending our salvation or our doom? (more…)

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Commentators trying to make sense of the economic chaos that hit the nation in the last couple of years have wagged their fingers in many directions – at banks, regulators, lenders, and so on.

But one culprit in everyone’s sights is the American consumer. Americans are in good measure to blame, we hear, because in the last couple of decades they became reckless spendthrifts, careening into credit-card debt, living far above their means – and then crashing and burning.

Could be. But overspending is nothing new. Indeed, it’s probably been less true recently than it used to be.


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