We live in a world that wants more but condemns that desire at the very same time. It may seem practical to give up your desires for Prada and embrace the minimalist lifestyle. But what would that mean for the world as we know it?
Let’s start simple. What is consumerism? In layman terms, the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers. And who are consumers? We all are. Today, our existence as humans relies on being consumers. Consumers engage in buying and selling goods and services to ensure a smooth running of the economy. It forms evidence for the world today. In fact, the reason the pandemic hasn’t hit us as hard as the plague did in the 1800s is consumerism.
A human life today is valued at 10 million US dollars, that’s nearly 3 times more than it was in the 90s. Human needs are growing and that means the value of human life is growing too. Today we have insurance plans, criminal courts and Gucci bags. Now, if these don't spell out a higher value on human life, we don’t know what does. And what could possibly be the harm in this? It forces companies to follow stricter safety and environment standards and be accountable for their actions in the one language they understand: money. One may feel that corporations have no concern for their labour, consumers or the environment, but we must take into account Corporate Social responsibility, philanthropy, environmental movements and sustainable measures, like H&M’s recyclable cloth return system, that make us realise that this talk of unethical capitalism is a lot of bark and not so much bite.
Another claim I’d like to make is that consumerism gives value to human time and effort. In Disneyland and even Wonderla, there are higher priced tickets for people who can cut lines and ride the attractions first. Now, while that may sound problematic at first, it makes ethical sense. You pay for your time. You put a value on your time, paying more to be more effective in the time you spend. Instead of waiting around in the sun, you can purchase the service that values your time and go about your day in the most efficient manner possible. People who spend their time doing more profitable work make more money. People who spend their time investing in others build better relationships. People who spend their time creating a flexible career enjoy more freedom. People who spend their time working on high-impact projects contribute more to society. One’s time is valuable and why shouldn’t it be commoditised? If we put a price to gems and diamonds, why can’t we put a price on our time and effort? Consumerism has helped us sell things that can and should be sold. The definition of markets is now extending, encompassing and enthralling.
A ‘practical minimalist’ might say that growing consumerism may lead to growing greed, selfishness and wasteful behaviour. However, the truth is that growing consumerism implies growing competition. As Nancy Pearsey said, competition forces us to do our best. Because of the growth of human desires, corporations have to compete for human attention. That means they give the users better, cheaper, smarter commodities than before at a rate much faster than before. Of course, it is imperative that this is done at a sustainable and ethical level, which is where the role of education comes in. Today, US private schools are valued at 86 billion US dollars. That means we pay for better comprehensive education, which is something we know will help to curb our animal tendencies and reduce our chances of acting in a way critics of consumerism fear. I would like to end with a simple example. Russia and China are socialist countries and they rank the lowest on the Human Satisfaction Index, whereas Capitalist Countries give their citizens a lot more happiness to boot. As proponents of global economic stability, should we remove consumerism, we may assume that the market is dead and might as well sit in a dark amenity void world, back to our caveman ways, licking and swatting at flies. Remember, less is never more.