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What are You Working For? The Gospel of Consumption

February 9, 2011

[A modern economist] is used to measuring the ‘standard of living’ by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is ‘better off’  than a man who consumes less.  A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum well-being with the minimum of consumption… Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of economic activity. – EF Schumacher

Poverty is not just the absence of money; it is also the absence of a belief in the future…What we need for real prosperity is what money can’t buy…. Block and McKnight

By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalised working class, in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption” – the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough.  President Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: “By advertising and other promotional devices…a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” The tied up capital was savings.

They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.” In other words there is no end to satisfaction, or it is a way of promoting dissatisfaction as the basis for higher levels of consumption and production.  – Jeffrey Kaplan

And the late George Carlin makes our stuff funny

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