The History of Consumerism
“Money makes the world go round” but “Money can’t buy me love.”
Money is like a dual-ended lightsaber for young people today: choose to reject it and you’ll battle poverty, choose to value it above all else, and you’ll battle empty vanity. Either way, both extremes meet with a lethal beam of energy at your throat. So when you’re weighing your dream against the uncertainty of “will it pay”, it’s helpful to understand where the age-old conflict of wealth and prosperity vs. higher-minded virtue began.
This fascinating and beautifully animated video by @theschooloflife reveals how our obsession with frivolous consumerism began, and how it has dictated the course of society as we know it.
Now it’s important to note that consumerism is not a bad thing. Because of our obsession with random non-necessities (like bobble heads and chunky monkey ice cream,) countless jobs, trade, and wealth have been cultivated for centuries.
“Consumer societies do help the poor by providing employment, based around satisfying what are often rather sub-optimal purchases.”
However, many philosophers and religious figures argue that the obsession with frivolity prohibits society from upholding a true, simple, and virtuous life. As Shakespeare put it, “Ah, there’s the rub!”
So what are we to do? Eschew our smart phones and go back to using the pony express or carrier pigeons to send messages? As cute as that may be, it would devastate our economy. The fact is, spending money creates money for local economies. Consumers buying products creates jobs producing said products, which in turn, fuels the economy.
Perhaps the more important question regarding consumerism is actually: what can we spend our money on that will cultivate things of great value and higher purpose?
“The crucial hope for the future is that we may not forever need to be making money off rather exploitative, silly, or vain consumer appetites, but we may also learn to generate enormous profits from helping people as consumers AND producers in the truly important and ambitious aspects of their lives.”
Adam Smith, an 18th century economist, “pointed out that consumption didn’t invariably have to involve the trading of frivolous things. He had seen the expansion of the Edenbrook book trade, and knew how large a market higher education might become… the ultimate goal for capitalism in Adam Smith’s view was to tackle happiness in all its complexities: psychological, and not just merely material.”
What do you think our higher needs are as a society? What choices can we make to collectively transform consumerism into a prosperous and powerful tool of societal wealth and conscious value? After all, as the idiom goes, “Money talks.” What do you think it should say, and what gift do you have to offer the world that can contribute to the conversation?