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Capitalism and Consumerism


These wise words from Ms. Crow in her song "Soak Up the Sun" most importantly provide a recipe for happiness on this earth, but we can also use the inverse to get to the heart of what is currently driving our economy. It seems not many here in the U.S. are taking her advice.

Consumerism, I believe, is consumption run amok, where a society believes happiness, as Sheryl implies, is getting what you want, at least what you think you want.

Hegel, one of western civilizations great philosophers, thought that the goal of any great society is freedom. In the early 18th century, however, he was already talking about something called "negative freedom" as detracting from "true" freedom. He defined the mere freedom to "do what we want" in society as immature and incomplete. True freedom has to do with morals and ethics and how they apply to our fellow humans. The freedom to "understand and express our moral duty" is true freedom.

Consumption is normally the basis for any economy and we certainly have the negative freedom to buy what we want. Consumerism is its fat brother, obese and waddling, uncaring where or how he will obtain his next meal. The Fat Brother does not understand nor is tempered by true freedom.

The level of debt of the consumer and the U.S. current account deficit certainly indicate that the U.S. consumer is or is approaching consumerism. In writing about capitalism, a few Minyans took issue with this economic philosophy, calling it the driving force behind consumerism.
I am not sure that we can blame capitalism for consumerism; perhaps we can if we redefine it as capitalism, American style.

Any economic system has one purpose: to allocate limited resources among the populace. Capitalism uses the motivation for profit, to improve one's individual standard of living, as the motivation behind allocating these resources. It has proven that what motivates the individual somehow does a good job of distributing resources fairly to the economy as a whole. Capitalism in its pure form is based on entrepreneurism, which creates businesses to fill a need or improve on a process.

Capitalism American style is a shade darker: what start out as small efficient companies filling needs and making processes efficient become big companies, protected by purchased legislation and engorged by a relentless media. They obtain the ability to influence our thoughts and desires, making us their tools to an end. Somehow the process gets turned on its ear. Big business and big media now tell the populace what it needs instead of the other way around. A government that encourages spending over saving by relentlessly printing dollars is complicit in the problem.

So I come out not blaming capitalism, in its purest form, for consumerism. But Capitalism American Style is another story.

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