What are the advantages and disadvantages of consumerism?

In answer to Quora question "What are the advantages and disadvantages of consumerism?"

Unfortunately what makes consumerism advantageous for producers and shareholders also makes it disadvantageous for workers, consumers, the environment and just about everything else. These factors include:

1. Cheap methods of mass production that facilitate consumerism appear to provide consumer choice, but of course actually do the opposite: they homogenize production. For example, most of the big pizza fast food chains in the U.S. obtain their pepperoni and pizza crusts from the same companies, creating the illusion of choice where there really is none. Great for production efficiencies and higher margins, but not so great for human welfare (in the case of fast food: monoculture sourcing and excessive processing undermines dietary diversity, food safety and security, nutritional value, etc.).

2. Along the same lines, "cheaper" always comes at a cost...somewhere. The consumer may bear the cost in reduced product quality or health risks; the workers may bear the cost in lower wages or exploitative practices; the environment may bear the cost in greater pollution or resource depletion. So consumers may enjoy a temporary increase in purchasing power, but eventually all those hidden costs catch up with the economy, increasing the cost of living and decreasing real wages. The producers don't bear any of these costs themselves - so again, great for them, not so great for everyone else.

3. Another advantage for producers is the habituation of consumers to externalized solutions - what I call "substitution nourishment" - so that consumers avoid taking responsibility for their own well-being, or ever become internally resourceful, but instead fixate on buying stuff to fulfill all whims, needs and desires (to find love, to be happy, to be healthy, to feel secure, to feel empowered, etc.). This habituation is great for corporate profits, but again not so great for human welfare.

4. Another psychological impact of consumerism is the internalization of highly destructive values. For example, a belief that pretty much everything in life is disposable, replaceable, easily accessible for immediate gratification, and not dependent on human relationships. This belief undermines social cohesion, creates the illusion of individual autonomy, and supplants all kinds of interpersonal trust with purely contractual or monetary relationships. The result is a dependence on acquisitiveness and consumption for society and many of its relationships to function at all. In fact such values have infected romantic and family dynamics as well (consider the expectations of most American children at Christmas time or on their birthdays, the expectations of material exchanges and consumption at the center of many dating and marital relationships, etc.). This trend is once again great for producers and shareholders, but not so great for human relationships.

I could go on, but hopefully you can see the pattern. About the only positive thing that consumerism has provided our society is accelerated innovation and convenience, but again this has created substantial negative impacts on worker wages and conditions, consumer health, and environmental destruction. If we were to include such negative externalities in the cost of production, all substantive advantages of consumerism are confined primarily to the wealthiest elite in society - corporate executives and shareholders, and the bankers who hold their assets and enlarge them through reckless speculation.

My 2 cents.


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