Consumerism is what drives the economy in a capitalist society, so buying more stuff is a good thing, right? Not always. Buying more stuff than we can afford can ruin one’s personal finances. Many of us end up with way more stuff than we need. All that unnecessary stuff takes a lot of energy and resources to produce, and getting rid of it overflows our landfills. So why do we buy so much stuff?
An easy story to tell is that marketers and advertisers have perfected tactics to convince us to purchase things, some we need, some we don’t. And it’s an important part of the country’s capitalistic, growth-centered economy: The more people spend, the logic goes, the better it is for everybody. (Never mind that they’re sometimes spending money they don’t have, or the implications of all this production and trash for the planet.) People, naturally, want things.
But American consumerism is also built on societal factors that are often overlooked. We have a social impetus to “keep up with the Joneses,” whoever our own version of the Joneses is. And in an increasingly unequal society, the Joneses at the very top are doing a lot of the consuming, while the people at the bottom struggle to keep up or, ultimately, are left fighting for scraps.
That drive to keep up with the Joneses and display our status with consumer goods hasn’t followed an even trajectory, as our references (meaning the people we want to keep up with) have gone through changes. Sociologist Juliet Schor explains how our buying habits have changed with the times and why at Vox. -via Digg
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