Consumerism is damaging to our society, in our North American society consumerism is often portrayed to be a negative aspect of people’s lives. However, one can also argue positive effects that result from consumerism, or emphasize on the negative effects of consumerism and how it can be a constraining force in one’s own life. Consumerism is an idea of an economic policy that the market is shaped by the choice of the consumer and continues to emerge to shape the world’s mass markets.
Some of the negative effects of consumerism that many critics may argue and that will be further emphasized on are the overexploitation of consumerism which has lead to economic poverty, and increase in debts by continuingly increasing already high consumption levels at the expense of less developed or poorer nations. Additionally, environmentalists blame consumerism for the resulting damage it has done to the environment through consumption and wastage of products, as a result cause pollution, land contamination, and forest degradation.
Lastly will look upon the effect consumerism can have upon one’s own personal life and how It can result in a pursuit to fulfill the infinite desires of “self”, thus forgetting once moral values and the inability to distinguish right from wrong. Generally, consumerism has emerged through a historical process that has created a capitalist society. That is shaped by mass markets and cultural attitudes, which ensure an ever-growing consumption.
Consumerism is the general assumption that human desires are infinitely expandable, and everyday companies around the world compete by trying to satisfy those consumers’ needs and desires. In most countries, consumerism mainly increased due to the industrial revolution, which led to the development of luxury products that have become status symbols, generally these products tend to go out of fashion or become undesirable within society thus they turn to be waste, which eventually has led to many socioeconomic as well as environmental problems (Buskirk & Rothe, 1970).
There are many ways that consumerism can affect a nation, because consumption is so vital to all thriving economies its global effects can therefore be seen around the world. The main issue North American society face is that most of the world cannot and do not consume at the levels that the wealthier people in the world do. Globally, political and economic systems are promoted to increase consumption and lead to immense poverty and exploitation elsewhere in the world (Shah, 2010). The question one must ask themselves is who is paying for the way the wealthier people in the world consume.
According, to the United Nations Human Development the world’s richest 20% consume about 80% of the world’s consumption, and the world poorest 20% account for 1. 5% of the world’s consumption (Kaza, 2000). These are eye opening statistics that display the immense inequality individuals face not only within consumption but rather society as a whole. Furthermore, to expand upon the consumption and its affect on society it’s estimated that it requires six hectares of land to maintain the consumption level of the average person from a high-consumption country.
The problem is that in 1990, worldwide there were only 1. 7 hectares of ecologically productive land for each person. As a result the deficit is made up in core countries by drawing down the natural resources of their own countries and expropriating the resources through trade, of economic underdeveloped countries. In other words, someone has to pay for our consumption levels (Robbins, 1999). Richard Robbins further mentions the significant risk that is involved with this ever growing economic systems and development that promotes consumption and perpetual growth.
Such risks are the harm it may cause to the environment in the long run, by the way of contributing to poverty around the world and the hunger that exist among such immense wealth, furthermore as consumption increases demand for resources expands into other peoples land’s as a result the other individuals do not get to use those resources for their own needs. The rich consume at the expense of the poor as further resources are expended maintaining this unequal balance of power. Kaza, 2000) Additionally, many environmentalists argue that consumerism has severe affects on the environment and blame it for many issues society is currently facing. Some major concerns about consumerism are that it can cause pollution, land contamination, and forest degradation. The production and waste of products used in consumption is related to pollution. Industrial waste and automobiles are primary examples, as well as waste from industrial agriculture and individual consumer waste.
A main issue that exists is the exporting of pollution and waste from developed countries to poorer countries, a process which is done due to the fact that poorer countries have lower standards or exempt from the emission reduction targets (Shah, 2010). Similarly, according to the Chief economist for the World Bank Larry Summers the World Bank should be encouraging more migration of dirty industries to less developed countries, ironically the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is perfect, however there are many countries in Africa that are vastly under-polluted.
Their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to city like, Los Angeles or Mexico City (Robbins, 1999). According to Larry Summers, instead of dealing with the environmental issue at hand, their moving toxic waste and factories to poorer countries and thus have them produce for the consumption of the wealthier nations. Therefore, move the issue elsewhere to save cost and find a short term solution to makes sense in a capitalist society.
As a result we see wealthier nations have cleaner air and water compared to poorer countries that are facing more pollution, even so the poorer countries only consume a fraction of what wealthier nations consume. According to Robbins (1999), “wealthier countries already ship 20 million tons of waste annually to less developed countries around the world”. Thus the poorer countries once again are paying the price for the consumption of the wealthier nations (Robbins, 1999). Lastly, will look upon the effects of consumerism, not only on does it effect society but also one’s own life.
According to many sociologist materialism is one of the end results of consumerism, materialism is the dominating desire to pursue wealth and other material things that provide physical comfort and ignores the importance of spiritual values. Personal satisfaction and greed are the most important aspects of life in a society driven by materialism, thus resulting in people forgetting their moral values and failing to realize the difference between right and wrong. The only thing that matters is the false comforts and a good quality life.
With the never ending pursuit to find fulfillment and happiness in material things but with the realization that it only brings discontentment (Kaza, 2000). Materialism interferes with society by replacing the common sense desire for life’s necessities, community life, family, and healthy relationships with an artificial unending quest for material things and this war against oneself and once uncontrollable desires (Rook, 1997) On the contrary, an economist might also argue the positive effects of consumerism that it is an absolute necessity and that nation’s economy depends on it in order to function, furthermore economist propose hat without constant consumption our world economy would fall apart. Consumerism increases consumption, more consumption requires increase in production, more production leads to more jobs and income within our society, thus more income leads to an increase in consumption. This is a continuous cycle that if handled properly can result in growth and prosperity within a particular society (Buskirk & Rothe). Furthermore, consumerism ever-growing around the globe, the individual consumer is continuously searching for the highest quality and the best price they can obtain.
This is crucial to our economic market because it is central in driving competition, this whole suggestion of ever cheaper, ever better and diverse commodities and services not only drives our economy but rather it maximizes our welfare, and promotes continuous improvement in products and our standard of living. In this capitalist society, the consumer is king and thus sovereign. Everyone is struggling to keep up, cutting cost wherever possible in order to stay in the game, but there are no winners expect the consumer who will always get his needs satisfied at the lowest possible cost (Arnsperger, 1996).
Without a doubt Consumerism is crucial to our society, because it drives our nation’s economies and without the infinite cycle of consumption our society as we know it would not exist. It is a phenomenon that will always be imminent within society, where people purchase goods and consume resources excessive to their actual needs. Clearly, as demonstrated the negative effects of consumerism far outweigh the positive effects, due to the fact an overexploitation of consumerism will eventually lead to economic poverty, additional the continuous increase in consumption and wastage products will lead to pollution and land contamination.
Finally, it will have lasting effects on individual’s personal lives in a pursuit to fulfill one’s own infinite desires. However, in a broader perspective rules and laws need to be implemented to ensure that the negative effects of consumption do not have lasting effects on the environment, and society as a whole.
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