A Mach Made In Heaven…

Capitalism and consumerism go hand and hand.  They have a relationship that can best be described as mutually beneficial, by that I mean consumerism fuels capitalism, and capitalism encourages consumerism. This is not done by chance or happenstance either, the basic mechanism of capitalism (maximize profits) lends it’s self to a mentality that places selling ( or people buying) as a very desirable end. This is re-enforced (or at least allowed to get out of hand) by a lack of both public action and governmental regulation.  In the end there is little (if any) proof that such a lifestyle results in more happiness than less market friendly spending. The one two punch of capitalism and consumerism is also debilitating to our leisure time, indeed we lack the basic freedom to not work, a right that any society with of our level of technology should be able (and motivated) to provide.

First the symbiotic nature of the relationship; with increase in production from ever increasing technology and innovation companies are able to make an ever increasing amount of consumer goods. These goods will not do the business any good until they are sold, so the company has a vested interest in increasing demand for their products, even if the increase is artificially generated the profits do not discriminate. The company makes the same profit from someone their loaf of bread weather it is a starving man’s only food for the day or a rich guys pond duck food, the profit is identical, and in reality the company is probably better served creating a “lifestyle narrative” that has people that feed ducks bread as the after work activity of the wealthy.  Poor people are notoriously bad consumers (they lack money), so by focusing on people who can afford you product rather than who needs you product companies increase sales and profits. If it has not been made clear yet this is a VERY BAD THING, by artificiality stimulating demand (this is accomplished by advertizing) companies are no longer producing products that we ( humanity) need,  or in most cases really want. I will give my favorite example from real life:

About a year back I wanted a water filter; the tap water in the place I lived had a very strong sulfurous smell/taste. I could have tried to petition the owner to install new plumbing, and start a grass-roots effort to get tasty water, but capitalism had already told me they had a quick and cheep solution to my problem, a pur water filter. So I purchased said filter, under the assumption it would fix my taste problem, and I am happy to say it did. Sadly the story does not end here, not more than a month later my filter started blinking, first yellow, then red. After consulting the instructions I learned that red meant my filter was “dirty” and needed to be replaced. Being a bit of a physics buff I had a basic understanding of how a carbon micro filter operates, and was astonished that it would really ever need replacement, so I did a bit of research, turns out that the filter will not put out unfiltered water, when it has filtered out all it can it will simply act as a plug, water will simply not come out.  The red light really was indicating that I no longer had “optimum water flow”, but pur would rather have me buy another every month,  even though the one I had purchased lasted about 15 months before it needed replacement.

That story can be re-told with literal thousands of products, companies encourage consumerism to increase sales, and they do so mainly by mis-information. The filter worked too well, rather than being happy with the profits from sales of 1 filter every year or so pur installed a light to say “buy a new one”  and made no mention of the fact that the filter will work just fine for another year after the light comes on.

Was I happier with my filter? I would say yes, it did make my tap water tasty, so I was. This is seldom the case with consumer goods however. The problem lies with the relatively exponential nature of material gratification. I will illustrate: imagine you are bare foot on the New-England woods in winter time, cold, hungry, possibly facing death from exposure. Now imagine you stumble upon a house and the homeowner seeing your condition takes you in and gives you a warm blanket, some hot soup, and dry cloths. Think of the happiness you would experience from theses cheep things (blanket, soup, cloths, and heat). Now having that increases in happiness as a baseline, how much happier would you be if the blanket was 1000$ designer blanket, the soup had gold leaf in it and the shack was a 5.5 million dollar mansion? The answer is not much, as humans we experience a huge increase in happiness going from needs not being met to needs being met, but once our needs are met we DO NOT get counting increases in happiness from more stuff, this is a problem when companies need us to keep buying to maintain profits. So they have (for a long time now) been lying to us, saying we need to keep buying to be happy when that is not the case, what really makes us happy after our needs are met is my next point.

That led nicely to the topic of leisure time vs. more goods total. As companies improve their process and techniques they are able to produce more goods with less man hours. This can translate into two things, namely you use the same amount of time and make more goods, or make the same amount of goods and use less time. Sadly historically this has really only gone the way of the former, making more goods.  Our system is ill suited to giving workers more free time, grater profits can only be had when sales increase, no realistic amount of cost cutting can equal the profit potential of increasing  sales. Studies cited in American Society agree that workers have a strong preference towards more time off, but owners have valued profits more. That has left America with 2-3 weeks ave vacation time for workers, the lowest of the developed nations.

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