In the wake of the presidential election, the issues of this nation are still being discussed. Those more liberal in mindset, often face off with capitalism when it comes to economic issues. However, consumerism often seems to be the true focus of their complaints. No doubt the two are related, but it seems that the principles of consumerism and capitalism are so deeply intertwined that many Americans can scarcely tell the difference anymore. It got me wondering how this strong link arose and ultimately: Can we have capitalism without consumerism as we know it?
Capitalism means free market, driven by the private sector rather than being government regulated. By virtue of its definition, business that are popular will flourish and those that are not will die. Businesses must have consumers if they are to continue trading. Consumption in this literal sense is necessary for capitalism to work. The act of consumption also allows people to weigh in on market players, with their dollars working as votes. But ‘consumerism’ is a whole different animal. Consumption allows people to gain items that they need, gifts to illustrate affection, and items that bring joy. Our ‘consumerism’ has come to mean little in the way of necessity. Instead it is means by which gifts replace true affection and gratitude, and material objects become increasingly necessary to simulate joy.
The move from consumption to ‘consumerism’ I think has a lot do with secularism. As religion is pushed to the fringes of society and minds, people began to look elsewhere for the same things regular spiritual participation once provided. Advertisers use this marketing opportunity to fill people’s lives with products. And with empty promises to heal brokenness that no ‘thing’ can heal, businesses secure and improve their own position in the marketplace.
What we need is an awakening about ‘things’, realize the gaps left by a lack of spirituality cannot be filled with the latest and greatest stuff. Such a notion scares economists: If people stop spending, the bottom will fall out of the economy. But we are starting to see companies that operate on a sustainable business model. They pay employees well, often better than minimum wage. They are eco-friendly and chose quality over quantity. They know there is more to be concerned about than their bottom line. This is the direction we are headed in, which hopefully yields a sustainable economy. There is life and hope as people put an end to consumerism Then our market and people will be truly free to function. And I think both will be better off.