Is Consumerism Consuming Us?

We have reached a point where we owe more than we produce, or can produce. We pay interest on interest for things purchased which we no longer want or need, yet we continue to shop for more stuff.

Moreover, many of us choose payment plans which begin after we receive the stuff, and we end up paying for much of this stuff long after it has lost its usefulness, or its allure.

Isn’t it time to get off this Not-So-Merry Go-Round?

Who’s “we?”

It sounds like you have shitty financial management skills. Maybe “we” should look inward instead of projecting our problems onto all of society.

Reporting for forum change, since this question has no objective answer and therefore not suited for GQ.

“We” are the consumers in the “have” countries of the world…in my case, Canada. I am not one the voracious or capricious consumers, but an observer of them.

“When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose;
you’ve got no secrets to conceal…”

“We were right, we were giving; that’s how we kept what we gave away…”

Yeah, I take all my economic forecasting from Bob Dylan.

Here’s some questions you should ask him. If a consumerist society stops purchasing how do people have jobs? What produces their income if they don’t produce products or services? Do we all go back to Yasgur’s farm?

What do you consider to be acceptable purchases? What is acceptable debt? Should people go into debt to pay for a college education? Should people go into debt to pay for housing? Tell us in your wisdom how the rest of us should live our lives according to your rules. L. Ron Hubbard made a fortune from his religion. Yours could do even better. Why, I bet people would set up payment plans to contribute to your church!

Moderator Action

I don’t see this as having a factual answer.

I’m not sure if there’s enough of a debate here for GD, but let’s give that a shot. If a debate on the topic doesn’t thrive then this may get moved again.

Moving thread from General Questions to Great Debates.

Who is stopping you?

For me personally, this is definitely not true.

My house is paid off.

I have a bunch of cars, but I paid cash for each of them. I had one car payment for a short time back in the 1980s. I haven’t had a car payment since. If I couldn’t pay for it outright I didn’t buy it.

I pay my credit cards off every month. I have no outstanding debt.

I set aside money for my retirement each month, in addition to my 401k.

I don’t buy stuff just to buy stuff.

I’m way off the merry-go-round already.

There is a problem of sustainability. I’m not sure if economic growth can happen indefinitely. But that just questions the current economic dependence on the growth of consumerism. Whether our economy continues growing or not, we still need people buying and selling things, or there really won’t be an economy as we know it at all.

So I don’t think consumerism by itself is bad, but the expectation that it continue to grow, and the Federal Reserve’s focus on forcing it to grow (by raising interest rates and hopefully inflation – encouraging people to buy now rather than save) is questionable. I don’t disapprove of growth, I’m just skeptical it can be sustained forever. We need to start thinking about how a low- or no-growth economy might function.

Those are the society wide answers. But yeah, going into debt to finance a lifestyle you can’t actually afford is dumb, agreed. But that’s a personal problem. That only happens to dumb (or let’s just say “financially ignorant”) people. It is not a society wide problem, except for maybe something like student loans which were heavily pushed by the government, aimed at ignorant teenagers, and which turned out to be a poor investment for a lot of people, who are unable to discharge that debt through bankruptcy.

Also, in a lot of cases the debt itself isn’t bad, it’s where it comes from. Getting a car loan isn’t bad, but getting an “insta-credit” loan at 19% interest is. Rent to own businesses are a bad idea. Payday loans. These should be fixed by a societal push towards more microlending at better rates for people banks won’t touch with a ten-foot stack of financial documents.

Do you mean ‘we’, as in our society? Do you mean ‘we’ as in we, the people? Or do you mean ‘we’ who are bad at managing our debt? Who is this ‘we’ you speak of? If you mean ‘we’ as a society, this is a true statement for some societies and nations but not for others. It varies. You say you are Canadian, so your ‘we’ doesn’t work in this case…Canada doesn’t owe more than they can or do produce. Far from it.

This is the case for some people but not for everyone. I don’t choose payment plans for most of my consumer purchases, personally…I generally buy with cash or I buy stuff I can easily pay off in a month or two. The big ticket consumer goods like TVs or appliances I generally keep for years. I don’t need the latest or greatest electronics…even my computer purchases are geared around 2-3 year life cycles, and generally they move down the food chain in my household, so that my old computers go to my kids.

You probably should. Other people who have issues with this should as well. As a society, though, it would be a bad idea to get rid of consumerism completely. Not only would it be unpopular because people like choices and also like their products to change and become more refined or have more or newer features but because it would have a negative effect on jobs. The flip side of being a consumer is that the products you are consuming put bread on a lot of peoples tables.

Here is some data from the Fed for Household Debt Service Payments as a Percent of Disposable Personal Income. Lately, it has mostly been at the lowest level since before 1980.

While the range seems small, it has a fairly large impact on the economy. When it has been going up for a while and then starts going up even faster, a crash is likely. When it’s been going down and starts heading back up a recovery might be well underway. YMMV.

That we seem to be about to start going up again is one of the few good economic stats that suggest that a recession isn’t coming. OTOH, experts have been hoping that it had turned around more by now.

Right now it’s nothing to worry about compared to, say, the Federal debt + future obligations (SS, Medicare, pensions, etc.).

Can we come up with some way to blame this on Obama?

To paraphrase Yoda, do not try…DO! Why bother coming up with some plan, just go ahead and pull the trigger and say it’s all Obama’s fault. :stuck_out_tongue:

Especially Canadian debt.

Too muddy. Maggie’s Farm is better.

If everyone consumed like my wife and I do this economy would be in a terrible mess. I wonder what the OP thinks the optimal level of consumption is.

I am not, nor have ever bee, on this particular Merry-Go-Round. Most of my merry go rounds revolve within my own head, heart, soul or imagination. As to the acquisition of worldly goods, I was brought up during the ‘Pay Ahead’ 1940’s-1950’s economic culture, when my parents made weekly payments until the full purchase price off an item was paid (including such basis items as a winter coat) , and then went to pick it up.

Everything I have has been paid for in full when I buy it, including my used car. I do use a credit card for convenience, and pay it off immediately when I receive its monthly statement.

Yes, I am a Canadian, but I am commenting on the financial habits of the citizens in all of ‘our’ [read: humanity] 'have" nations. And in Canada, there are many individuals, families, neighbourhoods, geographic areas and provinces who purchase/consume more than they are able to produce.

Finally, there are numerous endeavours require our ideas, efforts and support which we make short shrift of because they are not popular, hot (or cool, depending on your generation), so ‘we’ [read: “humans” in “have” cultures] ‘crave’ [read: get] them rather than finance the work which requires our attention and maintenance. We need to keep spending to support our economies and to strengthen the economies of the ‘have not’ communities and nations, but we could forego some of the latest material upgrades in the ‘have’ parts of the world until these economic and other social inequalities approach a more level playing ground.

Damn hippie

We don’t stop consuming; we keep the money flowing, full-circle. I’m not suggesting that we hoard wealth. I’m suggesting that we put it to better use, that we even share it. I realize that this is a very Canadian idea, but do not apologize for it.

I’m saying that we should pay for what we need, and if there’s discretionary income we should buy what we want, within limits.

BTW, I imagine Bob Dylan is quite well-off today, and I applaud him for his body of work and wish him well. I have nothing against the very wealthy who enjoy their lives without fear of losing ground, and am especially pleased by those who use their good fortune for good works.

These are noble-sounding words that have no content whatsoever. What in the world does it mean to get off the consumer Merry-Go-Round but to keep the money flowing? What should people do and not do? How does the wealth flow from the richer nations to the poorer ones? Can you say anything at all about your scheme that makes it more than a little kid wishing on his birthday candle?

Why are you so angry?