Friday, May 11, 2012

A Very Brief Defense of Consumerism

In his outstanding work The Wealth And Poverty Of NationsDavid Landes presents a brief, but cutting rebuttal to the critics of "American Consumerism." Speaking of the late 19th century, he points out:

"The American system of manufacturing had created for better or worse, a new world of insatiable consumerism, much decried by critics who feared for the souls and manners of common people. The world had long learned to live with the lavishness and indulgence of the rich and genteel; but now, for the first time in history, even ordinary folk could aspire ownership of those hard goods - watches, clocks, bicycles, telephones, radios, domestic machines, above all, the automobile - that were seen in traditional societies as the appropriate privilege of the few. All of this was facilitated in turn by innovations in marketing: installment buying, consumer credit, catalog sales of big, as well as small items; rights of return and exchange...It was the synergy that mad America so productive. Mass consumption made mass production feasible and profitable; and vice versa." 

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