Citizen or Consumer? A Year in Reflection

One year ago I started writing out of passion (and some anger). My how things have evolved! This blog has seen 75 posts in the last year, some of them great, some of them alright, some perhaps less so. I have tried my best to write about the issues important to me: a sustainable society, a healthier planet, a ethcial economy, and a more just world.

I have also learned so much about life, happiness, sustainability, and where I want to be in the world. More importantly, I have learned there is quite a large group of people out there feeling the same way, and we are all beginning to see the division between economic growth and true prosperity. What do you think? I would really value your input on ways I could make this blog better, both in function and in form. Please comment on this post or email me!

Since today marks Steady State Revolution‘s one year blogiversary I decided to take a look at the very first post and revise it with some fresh ideas (and hopefully improved writing skill). Here’s the 75th post on the 1-year blogiversary!

Citizen or Consumer?

The US Consumer Unit
The US Consumer Unit

Yesterday was the start of the “Christmas Shopping Season.” Aside from the typical trampling of an elderly person at a Wal-mart, this day signifies the beginning of the American Consumer’s busiest time of the year. Between today and New Years we Americans will increase our waste by 25%.

Each year we start sooner and sooner with our Christmas consumption, this year marketers started preparing for the season around Halloween. The average consumer spends about $1,100 a year on gifts, over $800 worth of which is holiday-related purchases. This means 73% of all our gift-related buying is done in the holiday season. That’s a lot of consumption.

Consumerism accounts for a large cog in the economy. Consumption drives the sales of goods, which is incentive to produce more goods. Producing goods is the basis our growth model. In order to grow the throughput (GDP) of our economy, we must increase the production and consumption cycle. What better way to do so than to make it your intuitive nature to spend? What if we could find a way to move people from identifying as themselves, or their jobs, but instead as what they buy? From this the American Consumer is born.

Consumerism is Born: Make Them Want It, If They Don’t Need It

The change to a consumer economy was developed by a few business men in the 1920s in order to keep their plants open year round, making them money. When we hit the industrial revolution, businesses were created to manufacture goods. Soon enough the business owners realized they could easily produce enough toasters, razors, and shoes for the whole year in far less time. Worry began to form that manufacturers would start having less and less work to do as increases in technology and efficiency decreased the length of production time. How do you keep your plant open all year round if you finish your work so quickly?

You create more demand: demand for beyond-necessary fulfillment. If the people desire more than one new pair of shoes a year, perhaps enough demand can be generated to keep production moving year-round. Every improvement in efficiency and technology, instead of reducing work hours, could be pumped into make more goods and generating more consumer demand than before. Simply convince the people they will never be satisfied with what they have: wants forever greater than needs. [Source]

Per capita household spending today is over 12 times what it was in the 1930. On average we work 250 hours more a year than we did 30 years ago, partly because 40 percent of us spend more than we earn, with the average household carrying close to $20,000 in debt (no including mortgage debt). So here we are, consuming far more than we ever have yet not that much happier for it. What’s the point? Do we simply consume more in order to keep production up? Obviously it isn’t making us happier, nor is it helping us in order arenas either.

When Consumption Goes Bad

We have already begun to see the symptoms appear in many facets of our lives: global climate change, peak oil, raising food prices, growing wealth inequality between and within countries, resource wars, hunger and obesity in the same breath. These symptoms come from an unsustainable way of life. The managing body of our society is our economy: it dictates are policies, are goals, and organizes our production and consumption habits. It is, however, an object of our own creation and control – never let anyone convince you otherwise.

In 1930 the Kellog Company instituted a six-hour work day in order to keep more people employed, increase productivity, but most importantly “workers would be liberated by increasingly higher wages and shorter hours for the the final freedom promised by the Declaration of Independence – the pursuit of happiness.”

We could easily work and spend a less while remaining in very comfortable lives. The productivity of each hour of labor has increased so much since 1950 we could cut out 2 whole days of work each week and live as comfortably as we did in the 50s – which was pretty comfortable. We have chosen, however, not to do that. Instead, we have decided to increase our consumption every year, growing our economy beyond our needs (and wants), beyond growth being economic at all. [Source]

Choose: Your Money or Your Life

The economy is of our creation and control, and like objects of public domain, it can be corrupted rather easily. We have allowed it to be contorted into a human-less machine focused solely on physical, quantitative growth. Working more and more each year, with less time to live, we make a statement with our choice: we like to consume. We love it so much, we don’t care if we’re no longer identified as citizens. We’re completely okay with being referred to as consumers. Why not, it’s what we’re best at anymore.

It is coming down to a critical moment in our history, however, when we will have to choose one last time: consumption or life? We are degrading or have degraded over 60% of the Earth’s systems as we grow. We have increased poverty and wealth in the same stroke. We have done all of this by acting like consumers of this planet, not citizens on it. We can choose to get out of this debacle, just as we chose to get in it.

Consumer or citizen; which do you choose?

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