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Ian McColgin
07-28-2013, 01:11 PM
Published on Saturday, July 27, 2013 by Post Carbon Institute Blog

The Brief, Tragic Reign of Consumerism—and the Birth of a Happy Alternative

by Richard Heinberg

You and I consume; we are consumers. The global economy is set up to enable us to do what we innately want to do—buy, use, discard, and buy some more. If we do our job well, the economy thrives; if for some reason we fail at our task, the economy falters. The model of economic existence just described is reinforced in the business pages of every newspaper, and in the daily reportage of nearly every broadcast and web-based financial news service, and it has a familiar name: consumerism.

Consumerism also has a history, but not a long one. True, humans—like all other animals—are consumers in the most basic sense, in that we must eat to live. Further, we have been making weapons, ornaments, clothing, utensils, toys, and musical instruments for thousands of years, and commerce has likewise been with us for untold millennia.

What’s new is the project of organizing an entire society around the necessity for ever-increasing rates of personal consumption.

This is how it happened

Consumerism arose from a unique historic milieu. In the early 20th century, a temporary abundance of cheap, concentrated, storable, and portable energy in the form of fossil fuels enabled a dramatic increase in the rate and scope of resource extraction (via powered mining equipment, chain saws, tractors, powered fishing boats, and more). Coupled with powered assembly lines and the use of petrochemicals, cheap fossil energy also permitted the vastly expanded manufacture of a widening array of commercial products. This resulted in a serious economic problem known as overproduction (too many goods chasing too few buyers), which would eventually contribute to the Great Depression.

Industrialists found a solution. How they did so is detailed a book that deserves renewed attention, Captains of Consciousness by social historian Stuart Ewen (1976). Ewen traced the rapid, massive expansion of the advertising industry during the 20th century, as well as its extraordinary social and political impacts (if you really want to understand Mad Men, start here). Ewen argued that “Consumerism, the mass participation in the values of the mass-industrial market . . . emerged in the 1920s not as a smooth progression from earlier and less ‘developed’ patterns of consumption, but rather as an aggressive device of corporate survival.”

In a later book, PR! (1996), Ewen recounts how, during the 1930s, the US-based National Association of Manufacturers enlisted a team of advertisers, marketers, and psychologists to formulate a strategy to counter government efforts to plan and manage the economy in the wake of the Depression. They proposed a massive, ongoing ad campaign to equate consumerism with “The American Way.” Progress would henceforth be framed entirely in economic terms, as the fruit of manufacturers’ ingenuity. Americans were to be referred to in public discourse (newspapers, magazines, radio) as consumers, and were to be reminded at every opportunity of their duty to contribute to the economy by purchasing factory-made products, as directed by increasingly sophisticated and ubiquitous advertising cues.

While advertising was an essential prop to consumerism, by itself it was incapable of stoking sufficient demand to soak up all the goods rolling off assembly lines. In the early years of the last century Americans were accustomed to paying cash for their purchases; but then along came automobiles: not many people could afford to pay for one outright, yet nearly everybody wanted one. In addition to being talked into desiring more products, consumers had to be enabled to purchase more of them than they could immediately pay for; hence the widespread deployment of time payments and other forms of consumer credit. With credit, households could consume now and pay later. Consumers took on more debt, the financial industry mushroomed, and manufacturers sold more products.

Though consumerism began as a project organized by corporate America, government at all levels swiftly lent its support. When citizens spent more on consumer goods, sales tax and income tax revenues tended to swell. After World War II, government advocacy of increased consumer spending was formalized with the adoption of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the nation’s primary measure of economic success, and with the increasing use of the term consumer by government agencies.

By the 1950s, consumerism was thoroughly interwoven in the fabric of American society. In 1955, economist Victor Lebow would epitomize the new status quo, writing in the Journal of Retailing: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile critics had identified a couple of serious problems with consumerism.

First problem: Consumerism, according to the critics, warps human values.

Way back in 1899, when consumerism was barely a glimmer in advertisers’ neurons, economist Thorstein Veblen asserted in his widely cited book The Theory of the Leisure Class that there exists a fundamental split in society between those who work and those who exploit the work of others; as societies evolve, the latter come to constitute a “leisure class” that engages in “conspicuous consumption.” Veblen saw mass production as a way to universalize the trappings of leisure so the owning class could engage workers in an endless pursuit of status symbols, thus deflecting their attention from society’s increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and from their own political impotence. Later critics of consumerism included German historian Oswald Spengler, who wrote that “Life in America is exclusively economic in structure and lacks depth”; Mohandas Gandhi, who regarded a simple life free from possessions as morally ennobling; and Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life and pioneers of the back-to-the-land movement. Social critics of consumerism like Duane Elgin, Juliet Schor, and Vicki Robin have argued that relationships with a product or brand name are dysfunctional substitutes for healthy human relationships and that consumer choice is a soporific stand-in for genuine democracy.

A second and more crucial problem with consumerism, say the critics, has to do with resource limits. Environmental scientists assert that, regardless of whether consumerism is socially desirable, in the long run it is physically impossible to maintain. The math is simple: even at a fraction of one percent per year growth in consumption, all of Earth’s resources would eventually be used up. The consumer economy also produces an unending variety of wastes, of which water, air, and soil can absorb only so much before planetary life-support systems begin unraveling.

In his 1954 book The Challenge of Man’s Future, physicist Harrison Brown envisioned devastating social and environmental consequences from the relentless growth of human population and resource consumption; Brown even managed to foresee the current climate crisis.

A few years later a team of researchers at MIT began using a computer to model likely future scenarios ensuing from population expansion, consumption growth, and environmental decline. In the computer’s “standard run” scenario, continued growth led to a global economic collapse in the mid 21st century. That project’s findings were documented in the pivotal 1972 book, Limits to Growth, which received blistering reviews from mainstream economists but has since been vindicated by independent retrospective analysis.

More recently, E. F. Schumacher, Herman Daly, William Rees, and other advocates of ecological economics have pointed out that the consumer economy treats Earth’s irreplaceable capital (natural resources) as if it were income—an obvious theoretical error with potentially catastrophic real-world results.



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Ian McColgin
07-28-2013, 01:11 PM
- - - cont - - -

A self-reinforcing system

Often these critiques have led to a simple personal prescription: If buying ever more stuff is bad for the environment and turns us into vapid mall drones, then it’s up to each of us to rein in our consumptive habits. Buy nothing! Reuse! Recycle! Share!

Yet treating consumerism as though it were merely an individual proclivity rather than a complex, interdependent system with financial and governmental as well as commercial components is both wrong and mostly ineffectual. Consider this simple thought experiment: What would happen if everyone were to suddenly embrace a Gandhian ethic of voluntary simplicity? Commerce would contract; jobs would vanish; pension funds would lose value; tax revenues would shrivel, and so would government services. Absent sweeping structural changes to government and the economy, the result would be a deep, long-lasting economic depression.

This is not to say that personal efforts toward voluntary simplicity have no benefit—they do, for the individual and her circle of associates; however, the system of consumerism can only be altered or replaced through systemic action. Yet systemic action is hampered by the fact that consumerism has become self-reinforcing: those with significant roles in the system who try to rein it in get whacked, while those who help it expand get stroked. Nearly everybody wants an economy with more jobs and higher returns on investments, so for a majority the incentive to shut up and get with the program is overwhelming. Arguments against consumerism may be rationally irrefutable, but few people stop to think about them.

If mere persuasion could dismantle consumerism or replace it with something better, it would have done so by now.

Crisis time

Still, as the critics have insisted all along, consumerism as a system cannot continue indefinitely; it contains the seeds of its own demise. And the natural constraints to consumerism—fossil fuel limits, environmental sink limits (leading to climate change, ocean acidification, and other pollution dilemmas), and debt limits—appear to be well within sight. While there may be short-term ways of pushing back against these limits (unconventional oil and gas, geo-engineering, and quantitative easing), there is no way around them. Consumerism is doomed. But since consumerism now effectively is the economy (70 percent of US GDP comes from consumer spending), when it goes down the economy goes too.

A train wreck is foreseeable. No one knows exactly when the impact will occur or precisely how bad it will be. But it is possible to say with some confidence that this wreck will manifest itself as an economic depression accompanied by a series of worsening environmental disasters and possibly wars and revolutions. This should be news to nobody by now, as recent government and UN reports spin out the scenarios in ever grimmer detail: rising sea levels, waves of environmental refugees, droughts, floods, famines, and collapsing economies.

Indeed, in view of the events since 2007, it’s likely the impact has already commenced, though it is happening in agonizingly slow motion as the system fights to maintain itself.

The happy alternative

It is not too soon to wonder what comes after consumerism. If there is good news to be gleaned from the story just told, it is that this mode of economic existence is not biologically determined. Consumerism arose from a certain set of circumstances; as circumstances change, other economic arrangements will become adaptive.

If we have some idea of the circumstances that are likely to emerge in the decades ahead, we may get some clue as to what those alternative arrangements might look like. As we’ve already seen, the consumerist economy of the 20th century was driven by cheap energy and overproduction. All signs suggest the new century will be shaped by energy limits, environmental sink limits, and debt limits—and therefore by declining production per capita. Under these circumstances, policy makers will surely strive to provide a sufficiency economy. But how do we get from a consumerist economy to a sufficiency economy?

Perhaps the most promising clue comes from the emerging happiness movement. Since the 1970s, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has experimented with Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of economic success, and recently convened a meeting at the United Nations to advocate widespread international adoption of GNH. Concurrently, the New Economics Foundation of Britain has begun publishing an annually updated Happy Planet Index (HPI), which ranks nations by the self-reported levels of happiness of citizens and by the size of countries’ ecological footprints.

The point of GNH and HPI is to count economic success more by how people feel about their lives and circumstances, and less by measuring consumption (which is what GDP does, in effect). Happiness metrics are kryptonite to consumerism, which has been shown time and again to make people less satisfied with the circumstances of their lives. A wholesale official adoption of GNH or HPI by the world’s nations would ultimately lead to a profound shuffling of priorities. Governments would have to promote policies that lead to more sharing, more equity, more transparency, and more citizen participation in governance, since it is these sorts of things that tend to push happiness scores higher.

The guardians of the consumer economy are not stupid. They will not permit the wholesale introduction of happiness metrics absent necessity. But, as we’ve seen, necessity is coming. As the current consumer economy frays and sputters, policy makers will need increasingly to find ways to pacify the multitudes and give them some sense of direction. Beyond a certain point, promises of a return to the days of carefree shopping will ring hollow. Moreover, upon first consideration, happiness indices appear relatively innocuous: they merely propose an alternative to GDP, which many economists acknowledge is deeply flawed anyway.

The happiness movement cannot solve all our problems. By itself, it can do little directly to address climate change, water scarcity, overpopulation, or a dozen other converging crises—though it could overturn an economic paradigm that tends to exacerbate all of them.

Happiness indices may constitute a collective adaptation that could ease the transition from one economic mode to the next, reducing the trauma that will likely accompany the demise of consumerism. GNH or HPI may be effective packages in which to “sell” sufficiency to policy makers and citizens; they may also be pathways to a genuinely superior mode of human existence.

© 2013 Post Carbon Institute

Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies, Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, and The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality.

Phil Y
07-28-2013, 04:50 PM
Its a pity that what starts as a sensible critique of consumerism degenerates so quickly and deeply into twaddle. GNH and HPI are very different things. HPI is nothing to do with happiness. Its about environmental impact. Green trying to ride on the coat tails of an emerging and possibly attractive, but very different ideology. Apart from that, there just seems to be no vision into the future-on the one hand it is noted that a mass move away from consumerism will lead to economic collapse. On the other, it is suggested we ditch GNP in favour of GNH and HPI, stop consuming for its own sake, and then....? No real thought at all about how to do this without the aforementioned collapse. Really?

The Bigfella
07-28-2013, 05:59 PM
He seems overly focused on widgets. Our Oz economy is something like 68% services based.

Another thing he's overlooked is the failure of so many attempts to measure performance (or even the ignorance of performance) by other than the bottom line (ie profit). Look at the dismal spiral downward of public sector productivity, for example.

Waddie
07-29-2013, 12:04 AM
Don't worry, the next generation will have to subsist on part time jobs, mostly in the leisure and restaurant business. They won't become "consumers". Problem solved.....

regards,
Waddie

Osborne Russell
07-30-2013, 01:27 AM
Consider this simple thought experiment: What would happen if everyone were to suddenly embrace a Gandhian ethic of voluntary simplicity? Commerce would contract; jobs would vanish; pension funds would lose value; tax revenues would shrivel, and so would government services. Absent sweeping structural changes to government and the economy, the result would be a deep, long-lasting economic depression.

Bring it on. Are we "homo sapiens" or not?

Of course if there were 1/5 as many people the situation wouldn't be nearly so pressing. And if a frog had wings . . .

The more people, the less the individual will consume, from necessity, no principle needed. That's why conservation without population reduction is a shuck. Commerce, pension funds, government services . . . these things are not solutions, they are enablers of denial.

Happiness metrics, spare me. The world was not created to make our species happy and it is wrong to act as if it was. MEM in drag and/or good old ignorant greed.

A future world of dweebs with a universe of information at their fingertips, roaming the asphalt, fed on stem cell burgers brought to them by commerce, pension funds and government services. May it all go the way of Detroit and never rebuild, ever. Better yet, never occur. God, if you are there, I humbly pray, do not ever allow humanity to turn the world into a system. When you hear them talk about happiness metrics, let loose some S like they say you can.

Sometimes I feel misanthropic.

L.W. Baxter
07-30-2013, 06:57 AM
Fun rant, Osbourne!

Nicholas Scheuer
07-30-2013, 07:07 AM
Sounds like a book I want to read, Ian. "Consumerism" has long tended to give me an uneasy feeling.

Keith Wilson
07-30-2013, 07:10 AM
Fun rant, but considerably sillier than the original post, which in some respects is pretty silly.


The more people, the less the individual will consume, from necessity, no principle needed. Nonsense. This is true only if the limiting factor is the physical resources available. Sometimes it is, more often it just looks like it is because we don't know enough, but most of the time the limiting factor is knowledge of what to do with the resources we have.


The world was not created to make our species happy and it is wrong to act as if it was. Nonsense, again. We don't know why the world was created, or even if there's a reason at all. This is a question about what we should do, and one way or another we have to decide what to do. It's also about how we can tell if what we're doing is working - i.e. achieving the ends we want , or making us happy. It makes at least as much sense to try to measure happiness as it does to measure consumption of physical goods or wealth.


A future world of dweebs with a universe of information at their fingertips, roaming the asphalt, fed on stem cell burgers brought to them by commerce, pension funds and government services. . . . There's something wrong with that? It wouldn't make you happy? ;)

Osborne Russell
07-30-2013, 03:58 PM
Fun rant, Osbourne!

Thank you. It's something of a specialty.

Osborne Russell
07-30-2013, 04:09 PM
Fun rant, but considerably sillier than the original post, which in some respects is pretty silly.

Nonsense. This is true only if the limiting factor is the physical resources available.

1. No substitute for cubic inches, or square inches, or even lineal inches.

2. They are making no more of it.



Nonsense, again. We don't know why the world was created, or even if there's a reason at all.

Yeah, like I said. That means it was not made for us. And that means acting as if it were is wrong.



This is a question about what we should do, and one way or another we have to decide what to do. It's also about how we can tell if what we're doing is working - i.e. achieving the ends we want , or making us happy. It makes least least as much sense to try to measure happiness as it does to measure consumption of physical goods or wealth.

You assume that no other interests are involved, but they are.


There's something wrong with that? It wouldn't make you happy? ;)

I object vehemently on aesthetic grounds. You've heard the saying "Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt"? Well, picture an urban corridor from Boston to Philly or Tijuana to Ventura with people clutching little plastic devices and talking their twaddle into the air. Disgusting. The really spiffy ones have the little plastic demon clipped to their ear like a cow in a feedlot. Tens of millions of them.

Tom Montgomery
07-30-2013, 04:45 PM
Americans are extremely unhappy.

Are you doubtful? Just take note of the number and frequency of Forumites who post to the Bilge to complain about the state of things.

Keith Wilson
07-30-2013, 04:56 PM
I object vehemently on aesthetic grounds. Ah, so it doesn't make you happy. Does it make them happy?

We don't know why the world was made, or if it was made at all. We do, however, know that the nature of human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid suffering. So what's wrong with doing that? We may do it badly, ineffectively, or in counterproductive ways, but seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering is just how we're built.

Glen Longino
07-30-2013, 06:07 PM
..."seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering is just how we're built."

Ahh, I feel better already just reading that!
Thanks, Keith!:)

Osborne Russell
07-30-2013, 06:51 PM
Ah, so it doesn't make you happy. Does it make them happy?

They're not happy, they're manic.


We don't know why the world was made, or if it was made at all. We do, however, know that the nature of human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid suffering. So what's wrong with doing that?

Plenty, from the viewpoint of them that's paying the costs.


We may do it badly, ineffectively, or in counterproductive ways, but seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering is just how we're built.

How does the conscience arise? Is it just very refined self-interest?

Phil Y
07-30-2013, 06:58 PM
Americans are extremely unhappy.

Are you doubtful? Just take note of the number and frequency of Forumites who post to the Bilge to complain about the state of things.

Maybe they are the exception rather than a representative sample? I'm sure there are statisticians who can comment more authoritatively than I on this methodology.

Duncan Gibbs
07-30-2013, 07:04 PM
The original notion of GNH as it was conceived in Bhutan is a lie: That country has forced one sixth of its population, the ethnic Nepalese segment, to either flee its borders or become internally displaced. I have an intense dislike of the notion that these quasi-Buddhist ideals and philosophies will somehow be our saviour, when we need only look at how well predominantly Buddhist nations have slaughtered each other and ethnic minorities within their borders. China, Southern Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Laos... Even Tibet prior to China's invasion and annexation was an intensely feudal society. About the only Buddhist nations to emerge from this mediaeval grip is Japan and South Korea.

Having said that, the premise that we cannot keep on the current consumerist trajectory because of a whole raft or reasons is a valid one. Perhaps the strongest theory advanced so far is the Steady State Economy, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steady_state_economy) but even that is not without its theoretical glitches, such as being able to make more from less (technological innovations leading to greater efficiencies). My own feeling is that anything that successfully replaces the current global paradigm is going to be the most beautiful mongrel ever conceived.

Keith Wilson
07-31-2013, 07:31 AM
They're not happy, they're manic.So some people are really happy, and some just think they're happy? And you can tell the difference?


Plenty, from the viewpoint of them that's paying the costs.Right; making yourself happy in destructive ways, or ways that make others miserable doesn't seem like a good idea. That doesn't mean seeking happiness is a bad thing, just that there are bad ways to do it, and we knew that already.


How does the conscience arise? Is it just very refined self-interest?Now that's an interesting question! I'll have to think about it and post later. Some people do seem to be born without one; not many, fortunately.

hanleyclifford
07-31-2013, 08:24 AM
Conscience is the referee between the mind and the heart.

Keith Wilson
07-31-2013, 08:54 AM
I'd define conscience as that which induces is to do what we think is right, or avoid doing what we think is wrong, independent of calculations of rational self-interest.

Osborne Russell
07-31-2013, 10:56 AM
I'd define conscience as that which induces is to do what we think is right, or avoid doing what we think is wrong, independent of calculations of rational self-interest.

OK, but doesn't that mean that . . .


. . . the nature of human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid suffering . . .

. . . is not the entire story? Unless you equate what is right with what is pleasurable?

Peace of mind is pleasurable, mostly. Comes from a clean conscience. A clean conscience comes at a cost, sometimes at a great cost. Is it worth it? Doesn't matter, because you can't know in advance. Therefore, when you incur the cost, you are either gambling, or you're saying, I'm not gambling, because to interpret it as a matter of costs and benefits defeats the purpose, which means even if you "win", you lose. Or, if you will, the benefit is infinite.


If I wrest a plank unjustly from a drowning man, I must restore it to him, though I drown myself.

-- Thoreau

Osborne Russell
07-31-2013, 10:57 AM
Conscience is the referee between the mind and the heart.

Who's paying this ref? He isn't another one of these replacement dudes, is he?

Osborne Russell
07-31-2013, 11:01 AM
The original notion of GNH as it was conceived in Bhutan is a lie . . .

I immediately felt that the choice of Bhutan as an illustration was suspect. Even if all the representations are true, it's too small. And if the representations are false . . .


That country has forced one sixth of its population, the ethnic Nepalese segment, to either flee its borders or become internally displaced. I have an intense dislike of the notion that these quasi-Buddhist ideals and philosophies will somehow be our saviour, when we need only look at how well predominantly Buddhist nations have slaughtered each other and ethnic minorities within their borders.

Lots of quasi, not much Buddhist.

Osborne Russell
07-31-2013, 11:21 AM
A wholesale official adoption of GNH or HPI by the world’s nations would ultimately lead to a profound shuffling of priorities. Governments would have to promote policies that lead to more sharing, more equity, more transparency, and more citizen participation in governance, since it is these sorts of things that tend to push happiness scores higher.

This isn't just a bogus answer, it is the problem. The problem is the premise that a technical adjustment solves a moral problem. That makes technology God, however conceived. That makes humanity God, which is at best a form of masturbation. Do it in the shower and the harm to others is minimal.

Whether more sharing etc. are good things AND appropriate goals of policy (the connection is not automatic) is a moral judgment. This guy implies that if we simply adopt a different "metric" (what a douche of a word) then the moral judgment is made for us. Wrong!

"Governments would have to promote policies . . . " Governments don't have to do anything. People can force them to, but that doesn't take a metric, it takes balls. Go wave your metric in the junta's face and see what happens. Enact it, enshrine it, commemorate it, celebrate it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it, et cetera ad nauseam. You haven't actually done anything. Go take a shower and for God's sake don't come out bragging about how you found the answer . . . because I know what you found, and it's not much of an answer.

oznabrag
10-01-2013, 05:42 PM
Bump.

I'll take more time for this later.

seanz
10-01-2013, 06:03 PM
Never mind, it's just Oz playing bump-a-thread

Paul Pless
10-01-2013, 06:06 PM
Bump.

I'll take more time for this later.let me guess, there must be something your not happy with in this thread. . .

Duncan Gibbs
10-01-2013, 06:16 PM
I'm saying that religion is no basis for governance of any kind, but more particularly that Buddhism is no rose petal when it comes to the issue human rights.

oznabrag
10-01-2013, 06:34 PM
let me guess, there must be something your not happy with in this thread. . .

Are you bored yet Mr. Negative, oh Farter of Farts, oh Poster of Porn?

Don't you like my bilge stimulus package?

Why are you convinced that I mus DISlike something about this thread?

I actually think the OP is spot on, in places.

Really. We have to quit optimizing for money, and focus on happiness.

Emily's siggy says a lot, to tell you the truth.

The simple, incontrovertible FACT of the matter is that a 'growth economy' has placed this planet on a collision course with a mass extinction event the like of which it has not seen in many millions of years.

oznabrag
10-01-2013, 06:35 PM
Never mind, it's just Oz playing bump-a-thread

You have the gist of it, but I'm not playing. :ycool:

skuthorp
10-01-2013, 06:38 PM
I'm saying that religion is no basis for governance of any kind, but more particularly that Buddhism is no rose petal when it comes to the issue human rights.
The biggest enemy of human rights is humans.

seanz
10-01-2013, 06:50 PM
The biggest enemy of human rights is humans.

:D

You do cheer me up some times.


Duncan seems to have religion as the cause of Medievalism.

bob winter
10-01-2013, 06:52 PM
My life is getting shorter. Give me a two or three line synopsis. I cannot and will not spend hours reading.

skuthorp
10-01-2013, 06:53 PM
Religion has an interest in civil stability, and as a result has more often been on the side of the strong.

Glad I cheer you up.Y>

oznabrag
10-01-2013, 07:16 PM
My life is getting shorter. Give me a two or three line synopsis. I cannot and will not spend hours reading.

Here ya go, Bob!


While advertising was an essential prop to consumerism, by itself it was incapable of stoking sufficient demand to soak up all the goods rolling off assembly lines. In the early years of the last century Americans were accustomed to paying cash for their purchases; but then along came automobiles: not many people could afford to pay for one outright, yet nearly everybody wanted one. In addition to being talked into desiring more products, consumers had to be enabled to purchase more of them than they could immediately pay for; hence the widespread deployment of time payments and other forms of consumer credit. With credit, households could consume now and pay later. Consumers took on more debt, the financial industry mushroomed, and manufacturers sold more products.

Though consumerism began as a project organized by corporate America, government at all levels swiftly lent its support. When citizens spent more on consumer goods, sales tax and income tax revenues tended to swell. After World War II, government advocacy of increased consumer spending was formalized with the adoption of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the nation’s primary measure of economic success, and with the increasing use of the term consumer by government agencies.

Duncan Gibbs
10-01-2013, 08:44 PM
Duncan seems to have religion as the cause of Medievalism.
I don't see religion per se as being a particularly progressive force in the World, and I certainly don't think of Buddhism as being the harmless creature everyone likes to think it is. Let's start with the OP and the whole concept of Gross National Happiness: One sixth of the population of Bhutan are clearly not happy. Quite the inverse, they are subject to arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and practises of ethnic cleansing. Many are either internal refugees, or have fled to neighbouring countries, and in both cases are living in squalor and poverty. The whole basis of GNH is a fabrication.

In southern Thailand Muslims are marginalised to the point they have taken to armed rebellion.

In Sri Lanka the Tamil minority still live in fear of persecution from the Buddhist majority.

Burma, Cambodia, blah, blah, blah...

Jeff is right, but the practise of Buddhism by humans is thoroughly flawed and I don't see much redemption to be had from embracing it, much less sweeping its history in nations under the carpet.

seanz
10-01-2013, 09:14 PM
Buddhists are dangerous? Thanks for the warning.
:)

Governments are dangerous. Bureaucracies are dangerous. Theocracies are dangerous. Secular (atheist even) dictatorships are dangerous. Democracies are dangerous.

Bhutan has an idea, but it must be a bad idea because they have done bad things to minorities? Persecutes minorities? That's every country I can think of.

oznabrag
10-01-2013, 09:19 PM
You two need to take your bickering to another level?

Try arguing about post #35!

I am pretty sure that is the meat of the matter, not Buddhist oppression or not.

Jeesh!:rolleyes:

seanz
10-01-2013, 09:26 PM
Payattentiontomepayattentiontomepayattentiontome!
:D

Ok Oz.

Consumerism and GDP have sort of skewed off course. What does GDP matter if most of the products a country consumes are made overseas? Maybe we should replace GDP with some other standard, it appears that GDP is becoming obsolete.

Any suggestions?

oznabrag
10-01-2013, 09:34 PM
Payattentiontomepayattentiontomepayattentiontome!
:D

Ok Oz.

Consumerism and GDP have sort of skewed off course. What does GDP matter if most of the products a country consumes are made overseas? Maybe we should replace GDP with some other standard, it appears that GDP is becoming obsolete.

Any suggestions?

Yes and no.

Certainly an alternative to the 'growth economy' must be implemented, or all will be consumed.

That is a flat-out FACT.

I got no idea how to proceed. I think that deliberately introducing inefficiency is the time-honored way of dealing with over-production, but that ends up generating misery and want.

The problem is that there is so much more than necessary to a healthy fulfilling life for everyone, and the few hoard it to themselves. We are dealing with the very basest of human foibles, and these same flaws are destroying the planet at an alarming rate.

bobbys
10-01-2013, 09:48 PM
Russian saying...

They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work...

seanz
10-01-2013, 09:48 PM
Stop over-producing? Help people stop over-consuming? In houses where "smart-meters" for electricity consumption were trialed, consumption dropped. So the trial ended and the meters were removed........so don't hold your breath while waiting for any help with the consumption problem.

Just a thought, the supermarkets have records of what we buy (pretty much, that's what those loyalty cards are for), it might be interesting if we could access that information.
Even a comparison between the consumption of people that shop online vs people that shop at the supermarket might be interesting.

oznabrag
10-01-2013, 10:16 PM
Stop over-producing? Help people stop over-consuming? In houses where "smart-meters" for electricity consumption were trialed, consumption dropped. So the trial ended and the meters were removed........so don't hold your breath while waiting for any help with the consumption problem.

Just a thought, the supermarkets have records of what we buy (pretty much, that's what those loyalty cards are for), it might be interesting if we could access that information.
Even a comparison between the consumption of people that shop online vs people that shop at the supermarket might be interesting.

Hey! I didn't say I had solutions, just defining the problem!

As I recall, the Romans produced so efficiently they had to have 200+ official holidays every year, complete with sacrificing livestock and burning the tasty bits; complete with pouring out large quantities of wine onto the ground, just to deal with overproduction. On these days, the ruling class, the managers, were forbidden to work at their jobs, and the underlings and slaves were put to the task of keeping the consumption orgy going.

Every large-scale 'civilization' has examples of just such formalized waste, because we can so easily produce so much more than we need.

Now bobbys has weighed in scoffing about Russians pretending to work, and there again is an example of the problem and its problematic solution.

Even the Russians had (barely) enough, even though their system was totally mismanaged. They had people whose 'job' it was to stand in the bread line for 30 hrs a week! That is how they managed to consume their overproduction.

Now we have people like bobbys scoffing at their way of dealing with the problem of overproduction, because he has been taught that we should each produce as much as possible, so we can consume as much as possible, but all this 'moral', hard-working behavior does is to deplete the materials we need in order to 'produce', and funnel large quantities of wealth into the hands of the few.

It seems that the Capitalist System solves the problem of overproduction by simply raking all the over-product away from those who produce it, and piling it up as dragon's hoards never to be used by mere mortals. It is helpful to this system if the mere mortals feel as though they have a shot at becoming dragons, themselves, but are always kept in harness pulling for that carrot on the stick.

Duncan Gibbs
10-02-2013, 12:10 AM
Bhutan has an idea, but it must be a bad idea because they have done bad things to minorities? Persecutes minorities? That's every country I can think of.
Payattentiontomepayattentiontomepayattentiontome! (to borrow a phrase... errr... long word :D)

Just because the Kims of North Korea have successfully maintained full employment for a long time doesn't mean we should adopt their IR policies, to whit... (from the wiki GNH article):


Domestic critics argue that emphasis on Bhutan's experiment with GNH has diverted global attention away from government suppression of the nation's largest minority the Hindu Lhotshampa, who formerly comprised approximately one sixth of Bhutan's population. Since the mid 19th century, the Lhotshampa coexisted in relative harmony with the dominant Buddhist population, but, as a result of new citizenship laws created in the mid 1980s, the Nepalese descendents suddenly were subjected to mass expulsion and oppressive tactics aimed to bring about their cultural and linguistic annihilation. Bhutan continues to deny those Lhotshampa who have remained basic human rights of cultural and linguistic expression. Instead, the group has been subject to torture and sexual assault. At the same time, refugees continue to languish in refugee camps, denied the right to return for over 20 years.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_national_happiness#cite_note-13)From an economic perspective, critics state that because GNH depends on a series of subjective (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjectivity) judgments about well-being, governments may be able to define GNH in a way that suits their interests.

and from the wiki Bhutan article:


In the 1990s, Bhutan expelled or forced to leave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_cleansing) nearly one-fifth of its population in the name of preserving its Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist culture and identity, claiming that those expelled were illegal residents.

Just because Richard Gere says Buddhism is cool, doesn't make it so. Just because Bhutan has produced a nifty sounding idea, doesn't mean it's any good, or has an ounce of validity in the actual scientific measurement of happiness, outside of the tight political constrains of a nation who only introduced universal suffrage in 2008, whose population is still mostly hidebound by poverty, reasonably high rates of illiteracy and lowish life expectancy, and still oppresses a significant minority of its population on religious grounds.

Get it now?

seanz
10-02-2013, 02:02 AM
If you're happy to repeat yourself, Duncan, I'm happy for you.

Apparently one of gets it, and it isn't you.

seanz
10-02-2013, 02:06 AM
Hey! I didn't say I had solutions, just defining the problem!

As I recall, the Romans produced so efficiently they had to have 200+ official holidays every year, complete with sacrificing livestock and burning the tasty bits; complete with pouring out large quantities of wine onto the ground, just to deal with overproduction. On these days, the ruling class, the managers, were forbidden to work at their jobs, and the underlings and slaves were put to the task of keeping the consumption orgy going.

.


Typical Pantheistic propaganda......
;)

You might be right about the excess production in the capitalist/corporate system.
http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?167832-Secret-Files-Expose-Offshore%92s-Global-Impact&highlight=

skuthorp
10-02-2013, 03:50 AM
I repeat, "The biggest enemy of human rights is humans."
I eternal growth is not possible, either in economic or population terms and there will be a reckoning of some sort. Likely it won't be a nice one. Of course if you subscribe to the Gia theory the earth, or the firmament solves these problems for it's parasites. Maybe a stray meteor, maybe global warming, maybe our propensity for the abuse of antibiotics will get up and bite us. Even if we are the agent of our own culling something definitely will.