Benjamin Barber in a recent article in the Huffington Post makes these comments about our "hyperconsumerism."
"…the infantilization of adults as impetuous shoppers and the undermining of democracy by a privatized commercial ideology,"
"Shoppers are staying away from the mall and refusing to buy all those goods they don’t need, and the economy’s going down the tubes!"
"…exuberant spending is what is inflating the trade deficit, wrecking the dollar, draining savings, and allowing foreign investors to buy up America — not to speak of corrupting American morals."
"How do we create a prosperous economy that does not depend on Americans buying not only more than they can afford, but far more than they need or want!?"
Now Mr. Barber seems to take for granted that what he calls "hyperconsumerism" is bad. This unquestioned assumption on his part assumes that at some point on a continuum people begin to buy what they don’t need, becoming by so doing victims of a "privatized, commercial ideology."
Now, I challenge you, try to draw that line between the purchases you need and the ones you don’t need. And we are all different in this regard. That line can’t be drawn. I long ago reached a point in my purchase of books where I might have said I didn’t need to buy another book. Just as my son probably didn’t need his new BMW in addition to his Ford Explorer.
And yet my life would have been less without the additional books, as my son’s without the BMW. Why should we make our lives less for a questionable end? By not buying what we do not need, if we could and we can’t determine that, would we somehow be better for it? Would our lives somehow be "more?" A dubious conclusion at the least.
My own life experiences tell me that men’s lives together are most of all structured on the exchange of goods and services. To take away these exchanges, or just reduce them in the manner that Barber would have us do, creates failed societies, such as that of the fallen communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
I lived in the Soviet Union during the last years of the Empire under Mikhail Gorbachev. While I was there no one ever accused the Soviet citizens of hyperconsumerism. For, as everyone knows, the state run factories had created a situation where there was little or nothing to buy.
Actually there were also state run "commercial" outlets called Berioskas, where foreign credit card holders could purchase Western goods (they didn’t need) and continue their hyperconsumerism while paying sales taxes to the Soviet government.
The Soviet Union probably never intended to become an underconsuming society. It’s just that the socks, cars, and electric appliances etc. that they produced in their state run factories were such that nobody wanted them. But there was never any talk about the super benefits of underconsumption in the Soviet Union.
One might think that the environment might have profited from the greatly reduced purchasing power of the nearly 200 million Soviet citizens. Of course it didn’t. The former Soviet Union, and now Russia, remains one of the most polluted areas of the earth. While Americans who over consume, victims as Barber would have us of the dominant commercial ideology, are at the same time creating a cleaner environment, cleaner air, cleaner water, more trees, and such, all to leave to their overconsuming children.
Barber says that overconsumption is making "infants" of us all, "undermining" our democracy. Does he mean by that that we would be better citizens if we consumed less? A very doubtful proposition.
People didn’t and don’t come to this country by the millions, by the tens of millions, in order to become good citizens. They come here to work, and by means of what they earn, to consume. That is America. (Love it or leave it.)
In my experience the best citizens have always come from the ranks of those who own things, such as homes and cars. There is nothing like ownership to create responsibility. And without taking on responsibility people will never be good citizens.
Furthermore, to own a home, to care for it, to maintain it, means an endless series of purchases, and happily in America these purchases are easily made. Unlike in the former Soviet Union where light bulbs, string, and paper clips, not to mention well- stocked super markets, were no where to be found.
So I would say Vive our Hyperconsumerism. And I would say again there is no line to be drawn between our wants and our needs. Even our morals, in particular our caring for others as well as our caring for ourselves, probably stem most of all, if not entirely, from the endless exchange of goods and services that we carry on with our fellows everywhere.