Consumerism is the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially those with commercial brand names and obvious status-enhancing appeal, e.g. an expensive automobile, rich jewellery. It is a pejorative term which most people deny, having some more specific excuse or rationalization for consumption other than the idea that they're "compelled to consume". — wikipedia definition of consumerism.

Issue: Consumerism and the social and ecological consequences.

With the advent of mass production and mass communication more and more of the daily life of the average human being is immersed either in the purchasing of items, the generation of income to purchase items or the passive absorbtion of marketing designed to enhance our motivation to consume. This overall pattern, which can be called "consumption for the sake of consumption" is otherwise known as consumerism. To the extent which consumerism fails to increase quality of life for the consuming individual, it can be viewed as an addiction. To the effect that it promotes and increases the "throughput" of disposable or nearlly disposable goods, it can be viewed as an ongoing environmental catastrophe.

web essay, effects of consumerism
Behind Consumption and Consumerism

Issue: Consumerism as a substitute for happiness.

Consumerism can also be seen as an attempt to use products and services to "cure" feelings or provide for needs that have little to do with material wants. Consumerism can be a salve or a distraction from loneliness, anxiety, lack of self worth, lack of a healthy social life, sexual frustration, a lack of civic life, physical recreation or creative outlets.

Issue: Consumerism as mind control.

Particularly with reposect to children, but of general concern to all residents in a consumer society is the cumulative effects of advertising on civil society and culture.

In a comprehensive study Pollay (1986) reviewed the work of "all North American authors known to have written on the cultural character of advertising." These were some of the conclusions:
  • Advertising wields a social influence comparable to that of religion and education. (citing David M. Potter)
  • Advertising employes techniques of intensive persuasion that amount to manipulation. (citing UNESCO)
  • Its intent is to preoccupy society with material concerns.
  • Advertising reaches beyond matters of taste in manners, dress, and food to affect the basic patterns of society: the structure of authority in the family, the pattern of morals, the meanings of achievement in society. (citing Daniel Bell)
  • Advertising cumulatively conveys an integrated value structure determining individual and group living. (citing Michael R. Real)
  • It promotes self-doubt, makes the consumer acutely unhappy with his or her lot, and in the process fosters self-contempt. It teaches that the simple cure for the spiritual desolation of modern life is consumption. (citing Christopher Lasch)

The Downside of Consumerism

The corporate consumer system has imposed its own definition of reality and its own definition of the "good life" on all of us.

The mass media have imposed on us a conception of reality which defines for us what happiness is, what the "good life" is...

Simple observation shows they have been extremely successful.

But in the process they have left us believing that happiness can be achieved only by continually buying new products and services.

Basic Income and Challenging Consumerism

The deleterious effects of consumerism on our communities would be addressed by some form of basic income, which would help us get off the continuous economic growth consumer lifestyle way of thinking.

It’s hard to think of forces in society that can alter the course of consumerism gone mad. Maybe a GAI would have some effect.

Many people have the illusion that they are working “just to keep the wolf from the door”. Some are. But the problem is with the rest of us who think we are but in fact are living the consumer lives that corporations have and are carefully planning - to keep us buying.

If people had the clear possibility of living without work, that is if everyone were given, automatically, just for existing, what they need to live, I think an increasing number of people might be able to get off the consumer treadmill trap. Maybe not, because consumerism has us believing that happiness is only possible by buying goods and services. We’re in so deep now that most people with a GAI would want to work to buy the toys they’re dependent on for a sense of well being.

I think as Greens we need to decide what level of consumption makes sense. Could we do with half our stuff, or one quarter of our stuff?

I’d like to see some suggestions about that.

Do we need 50 feet of breakfast cereals in the supermarket? Etc. etc.

If we thought we could do with half, then would that mean half the energy needed to manufacture or import, distribute, market, purchase?

Is this another way to get off the consumer treadmill – reduce the amount of energy produced?

A major disruption and politically unpalatable I presume, though the end point of continuous economic expansion may be equally unpalatable.

A good though long article re consumerism

in street lingo, consumer capitalism is an equal-opportunity whore. Not so long but interesting

Another Overview of Consumerism

The Poverty of a Rich Society (Very Short)

Getting a Living
Henry David Thoreau (1854) 2174 words

If a man walk in the woods for the love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now.

Nevertheless, as I do not need the police of meaningless labor to regulate me...

I foresee that if my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.

Open Reality: The Way Out Of Mimicking Happiness 3875 words

The Western World, as we have heavily illustrated throughout this book, has almost wholly accepted the illusion of material progress as a guarantor of happiness. The common denominator of materialism is an uncritical acceptance of the glittering competitive and success-oriented consumer life as the only reality. The Corporations, their advertising appendages, and the mass media have skilfully created consumer illusions, as our everyday cultural world has built a screen in the human mind, shielding us from our possibilities as a species.

All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture 2160 words

Back in the 1930's, Sheldon and Arens had noted that many people were resistant to the economy of waste. "Scratch a consumer," they wrote, "and you find an opponent of consumptionism and a fear of the workings of progressive obsolescence."
By the late 1940's, conditions had changed, but Lippincott still spoke of the need to combat thrift oriented thought: "The major problem confronting us is how to move this merchandise to the American consumer. The major problem therefore is one of stimulating the urge to buy!... Our willingness to part with something before it is completely worn out is... truly an American habit, and it is soundly based on our economy of abundance. It must be further nurtured even though it is contrary to one of the oldest inbred laws of humanity — the law of thrift — providing for the unknown and often-feared day of scarcity."
Here, in the clarity of Lippincott's words, we confront the inner logic of the spectacle of waste: the live for the moment ideology that primes the market and avoids the question of the future.
During the 1950's, the appeal to what Lippincott described favorably as "mass buying-psychosis" accelerated as never before. The suburbs were a symbolic escape from the rhythms of industrial society; they also represented the elevation of planned obsolescence as an entire way of life. At the centre of this life-style was the automobile, which, during the 1950's, became a public laboratory in waste. Perhaps more than anyone else, Harley Earl — who coined the phrase "dynamic obsolescence" to describe the design approach he innovated at General Motors' Styling Department — expressed big business' approach to style and market stimulation in the mid 1950's, when he said, "Design these days means taking a bigger step every year. Our big job is to hasten obsolescence. In 1934 the average car ownership span was five years; now it is two years. When it is one year, we will have a perfect score."

You Can Never Get Enough of What You Didn't Want in the First Place 251 words

No number of products, money, or abstract goods satisfies us. This is the fundamental mistake we make in substituting the economic for the familiar as the root of identity. Economic man is driven by insatiability because, as my friend Anne Valley Fox says, "You can never get enough of what you didn't want in the first place". Beyond the level of comfortable survival, goods become a substitute for the primal goodness we were denied - familiarity, intimacy, kindness...

When There Are No Values, Money Counts
229 words
The point is not that the money society has triumphantly driven out all the solid, estimable values, like the shaggy barbarians at the gates of Rome. Rather, the money society has expanded to fill the vacuum left after the institutions that embodied and nourished those values - community, religion, school, university, and especially family - sagged or collapsed or sometimes even self-destructed.

The Brave New World of Childcare
955 words
Most public pronouncements about child care are not based on critical thought about whether our compulsion for economic growth has spun out of control.

Consumerism — The World's Fastest Growing Religion 3210 words

Consumerism’s religious dimensions become most clear when we consider its implications for our understandings of meaning, truth, and loyalty. According to the gospel of consumerism, the meaning of life is to spend money and be entertained. The truth is what sells. If people buy it, it’s right. The objects worthy of our ultimate loyalty are the gods of money and pleasure. It is at the altar of these gods that the adherents of consumerism bow down and worship.

That happiness is to be attained through limitless material acquisition is denied by every religion and philosophy known to man but is preached incessantly by every American television set.

Market driven forces have usurped the role once assumed by family, home and community.

Few societies could imagine themselves surviving very long when one of their central institutions was advocating unrestrained greed.

Reserach Notes:

Tax on advertising posters

In the Swiss Cantons of Uri, Aargau and Vaud, a tax is levied on publicly displayed advertising materials of a commercial nature, including cinema projections and acoustic events. In the Canton of Solothurn this is an optional tax that the communes are free to levy but that none charges in practice. Source: Swiss Federal Website.

Advertising association article against taxes on advertising

Mesa, Arizona collects a municipal tax on advertising.

Tokyo gov't eyes tax on advertising
Japan Today - Thursday, November 27, 2003 at 06:40 JST
TOKYO — The Tokyo metropolitan government is considering imposing a tax on businesses related to advertising such as ad agencies, commercial TV stations and corporate sponsors as a means to help ease chronic revenue shortages, metropolitan government officials said Wednesday.

In 1967 the ADA filed a protest of IRS proposed tax on advertising income from professional association publications.

In the early 90's Cdn publishers asked gvt to block sale of split-runs in CA. Task force reports in March 1994 recommending an 80% excise tax on advertising. Excise tax put in place in early 1996. Gvt also disallows income tax deductions to advertisers in split-run magazines. Also puts higher postage rates on non-Canadian owned magazines. USTR launches WTO action in March 1996, and wins case in first round. In 1998 a new law (bill C-55) covering split run Magazines was passed by the liberals.

An economic analyis of Advertising in the US economy

The Association of National Advertisers and its members are committed to maintaining the full deductibility of advertising as an ordinary and necessary business expense.
Through the years, there have been numerous attempts in Congress and at the state level to reduce or eliminate advertising deductibility on an across-the-board or product-specific basis.
ANA, through the Advertising Tax Coalition (ATC), of which we are a founding member, monitors developments on federal tax policy. We have a continuing outreach effort to the Bush Administration, and we continue to meet with key members and staff of the tax-writing committees in Congress.