Consumerism can be defined as an economic and social ideology and order that encourages consumption or acquisition of goods/services in a never-ending cycle. Consumerism encourages purchasing and consumption of goods and services in excess of a person’s basic needs.
In economics, the term consumerism is used to refer to economic policies which encourage consumption. In a consumerist society, people are bombarded by adverts, discounts, product launches, product giveaways among many other promotions meant to encourage constant and significant spending on goods and services. Consumerism encourages pursuit for the ”good life”. This may come at the expense of things like saving and investing.
History and rise of consumerism
Consumerism can be traced back to the onset of capitalism in the 16th century in Europe. Consumerism intensified in the eighteen century because of a growing middle class that embraced luxury consumption. The eighteen century also saw an increasing interest in fashion rather than necessity as a determinant for purchasing. The growth of consumerism can also be attributed to politics and economics. For countries to thrive politically and economically, capitalist competition for profits and markets had to be at the core of every country’s agenda. Colonialism has also been attributed as one of the major drivers of consumerism.
Colonialists had to look for markets for their goods by creating demand because there was supply. The industrial revolution also spurred consumerism as the number of consumer products increased in the market due to the increasing use of machines. Over many decades, buying goods/services became a way of life in Britain and many other parts of the world. The consumerist culture continues today. It encourages spending on consumer items like cars, clothes, shoes, and gadgets instead of saving and investing. Consumers buy goods and services to keep up with fashion/trends. The search for better goods is never-ending.
The rise of consumerism today is evident in both developing and developed countries. This can be seen in the mass production of luxury goods. The media is also saturated with advertisements. Personal debt levels are also rising globally which is an indication of more people buying goods excessively on impulse or without proper financial planning. Other evident signs of consumerism include product innovation.
Benefits of consumerism
1. Economic growth:
Consumerism drives economic growth. When people spend more on goods/services produced in a never-ending cycle, the economy grows. There is increased production and employment which leads to more consumption. The living standards of people are also bound to improve because of consumerism.
2. Boosts innovation and creativity:
Since consumers are actively looking for the next-best products/services to buy, producers/manufacturers are under constant pressure to innovate. As consumers access better goods/services, living standards improve.
Cons of consumerism
1. Environmental degradation:
Increasing demand for goods put extensive pressure on natural resources such as water and raw materials. Consumerism also results in the excessive use of energy. Consumerism also encourages the use of chemicals which are known to degrade the environment. In a nutshell, consumerism does more harm than good to the environment.
2. Moral degradation:
Increasing consumerism tends to shift away societies from important values such as integrity. Instead, there is a strong focus on materialism and competition. People tend to buy goods and services they don’t need so that they can be at par or at a higher level than everyone else.
3. Higher debt levels:
Consumerism also increases debt levels in a society. The number of people taking short term loans such as payday loans to buy luxury goods has increased drastically. Many short-term loans aren’t channeled into constructive use today.
4. Mental health problems:
Consumerism increases debt levels which in turn results in mental health problems like stress and depression. Trying to follow the latest trends when you have limited resources can be very exhausting to the mind and body. Consumerism forces people to work harder, borrow more and spend less time with loved ones. Consumerism gets in the way of fruitful relationships. It affects the overall well-being of people negatively in the long run since research has proven that people don’t get valuable and long-lasting fulfilment from materialism.
Consumerism has a good and bad side. Although consumerism drives economic growth and boosts innovation, it comes with a fair share of problems ranging from environmental and moral degradation to higher debt levels and mental health problems. Since we are already in a consumerist society, it is advisable to strike a healthy balance. A person’s love for the finer things in life should not come at the expense of his/her mental health and financial stability.