Consumerism the Story Behind Consumerism Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Many of the products we see in developed countries seem really cheap. For example, consumer electronics in the United States are cheaper than in many developing countries although the income level is much higher in the United States. So, how do manufacturers provide consumers with cheap products? According to Leonard, manufacturers force workers and Third World natives pay the price. Distributors in giant supermarkets such as Wal-Mart pay their workers the minimum wage, while manufacturers that outsource labor pay Third World workers even less, forcing them to work in hazardous conditions. The natives pay for the cost of manufacturing (aimed primarily at consumers in rich countries) with their health, their environment, and sometimes even their lives (Leonard, 2008).

Distribution leads to the major component of the material's economy: consumption. The facts associated with consumption are indeed frightening. It is estimated that 99% of finished products are trashed within six months. People in America today consume twice more than they used to in 1960s. And the increasing level of consumption is not a coincidence but a deliberate policy pursued by the government for the benefit of corporations. For example, in the wake of 9/11, President Bush's first advice was "go shopping." Government passes laws and regulations that allow corporations to increase their production capacities (at the expense of the environment and workers) and let advertisers propagate the value of consumption. Leonard explains that there are two concepts that explain the policy of advertising consumption. The first is "planned obsolescence," which suggests that goods are produced or packaged in such a way that they cannot be reused -- forcing consumers to buy more. The second concept is "perceived obsolescence," which refers to the perception that people need to buy new designed or improved goods (Leonard, 2008).

The planned and perceived obsolescence leads to disposal which, in the United States today, is twice more than it was in 1980. High levels of consumption lead to high levels of disposal. The problem with growing disposal is that garbage cannot be easily destroyed without damaging the environment. Huge piles of garbage fill landfills and remain there for decades and sometimes hundreds of years (e.g. disposable diapers), while garbage sometimes is burnt which contaminates the air and releases chemicals that contribute to global warming. And while the ever growing consumer disposal is a serious problem, it actually constitutes a fraction of the disposal problem because factories dispose much more than consumers (Leonard, 2008).

At the heart of the problems discussed here is consumerism. Consumerism drives the current material's economy; the tendency of corporations to produce cheap products, with little regard to the health of the environment and the people in Third World countries. Because of the essential role of consumerism in driving the material's economy, government also propagates consumerist values. In order to address these problems, we need to think of ways that will decrease overall consumption levels. Steffen (2008) suggests that one way of doing this is by building green cities. Another way is adopting methods that allow the use of technology in an environmentally-friendly manner. For example, some societies in Third World countries constructed a water pump that runs when children play. More importantly, we need to embrace new political values that challenge the consumerist economy -- before it is too late (Steffen, 2008).


"The Environment and Economy in Conflict." Gustave Speth. Yale University

ITunes.12 May 2008. 20 Nov. 2008. 5 minutes.


Sources Used in Document:


"The Environment and Economy in Conflict." Gustave Speth. Yale University

ITunes.12 May 2008. 20 Nov. 2008. 5 minutes.

"Inspired Ideas for a Sustainable Future." Alex Steffen. TED Talks. iTunes. 4 April

2008. 4 Dec. 2008. 8 1/2 minutes.

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