While globalization is the dominant hegemony of the present age, consumerism has become the basis of its wealth. The current practice of consumerism fosters certain forms of identity (such as self at play, expressed in spectacles, games, and hedonistic lifestyles) where fantasies of the self can be articulated in virtual realms. It is the theory that individuals who consume goods and services in large quantities will be better off. Some economists believe that consumer spending stimulates production and economic growth. However, consumerism has been widely criticized for its economic, social, environmental, and psychological consequences.

In common use, consumerism refers to the tendency of people living in a capitalist economy to engage in a lifestyle of excessive materialism that revolves around reflexive, wasteful, or conspicuous overconsumption. In this sense, consumerism is widely understood to contribute to the destruction of traditional values and ways of life, consumer exploitation by big business, environmental degradation, and negative psychological effects. Consumerism is the idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal and that a person’s wellbeing and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions. Thorstein Veblen, for example, was a 19th-century economist and sociologist best known for coining the term “conspicuous consumption” in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Conspicuous consumption is a means to show one’s social status, especially when publicly displayed goods and services are too expensive for other members of the same class. This type of consumption is typically associated with the wealthy but can also apply to any economic class.

Following the Great Depression, consumerism was largely derided. However, with the U.S. economy kick-started by World War II and the prosperity that followed at the end of the war, the use of the term in the mid-20th century began to have a positive connotation. During this time, consumerism emphasized the benefits that capitalism had to offer in terms of improving standards of living and an economic policy that prioritized the interests of consumers. These largely nostalgic meanings have since fallen out of general use.

Consumerism is often associated with globalization in promoting the production and consumption of globally traded goods and brands, which can be incompatible with local cultures and patterns of economic activity. Consumerism can also create incentives for consumers to take on unsustainable debt levels that contribute to financial crises and recessions.

Connecting Globalization with Consumerism

There are some who celebrate globalization through consumerism; such people legitimate the new political economy and its goods, gadgets, and entertainment products. But while some may locate selfhood in a consumerism sustaining the status quo, others would resist and others escape from the effects of the global political economy in the various forms of the lucid, indulgence that often permit the expression of the transgressed in symbolic forms. At the same time, cultural resistance, in lieu of political action serves to sustain the very alienation and domination that engender its emergence. An emergent global justice identity is challenging the economic disparities, environmental despoliation and human rights abuses associated with the new global economy

A connection between globalization, mobility and consumerism could be established within the domain of three main factors which are:

1) Access to resources and markets on a global basis.

2) Production of consumers all over the world with an extensive range of products and services that were not easily available before, and

3) Central and fundamental understanding of globalization and the modern world being the notion of “consumerism” but this expression seems to be in a gradual change.

Globalization and mobility therefore set the conditions for consumerism through an interrelated process which works through the above mentioned factors.

Nature of present consumption-   At present, a variety of resources and products are being consumed having moved beyond basic needs to include luxury items and technological innovations. Even though such consumption beyond minimal and basic needs should not necessarily be negatively perceived, what should be understood is what lies behind the form of consumption and consumerism in the present world (Shah, 2006). In the present world some characteristics of consumption are;

(i) choices of consumption are being influenced by certain actors,

(ii) what is to be produced and not are being decided by certain actors,

(iii) a uniformity of consumption patterns are being created throughout the world and

(iv) material value influences relationships among people (Shah, 2006).

According to the United National Development Report (1998), the evolved consumption patterns as such are imposed globally due to globalized markets. Market led globalization intensifies commodity exchange thereby capturing global markets promoting consumerism through lucrative promises such as fair and efficient use of resources to meet basic human needs, increased access to more goods (Evenett, 1999), reduced prices due to competition with local monopolies and enabling poor people in certain countries to buy cheaper imported goods rather than poor quality goods produced by local monopolies (Graham & Krugman, 1991).

Thus, a connection between globalization and consumerism could be established based on the factors which are

1) access to resources and markets on a global basis

2) production of consumers all over the world with an extensive range of products and

3) the notion of consumption being fundamental and central in understanding the current forms of globalization.

Within this context, there are mobile trends that have been identified around globalization and consumerism which have made consumerism an issue at present (Shah, 2006). Some of the trends of present consumption are:

  • Inequality of consumption (not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers).
  • Use of pollutant goods and production technologies instead of cleaner ones.
  • Promoting goods that discourage poor producers rather than promoting goods to empower poor producers.
  • Creating a priority among consumers for consumption to conspicuous display rather than to meeting basic needs.
  • Patterns and effects which exacerbates inequalities and
  • Unsustainable consumption and the depletion of the environmental resources (Shah, 2006)

Hence, globalization, mobility and consumerism today are accelerating the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus (Shah, 2006).

Consumerism is often criticized on cultural grounds. Some see that consumerism can lead to a materialistic society that neglects other values. Traditional modes of production and ways of life can be replaced by a focus on consuming ever more costly goods in larger quantities. Consumerism is also criticized on psychological grounds. Psychological research has shown that people who organize their lives around consumerist goals, such as product acquisition, report poorer moods, greater unhappiness in relationships, and other psychological problems. Psychological experiments have shown that people exposed to consumerist values based on wealth, status, and material possessions display greater anxiety and depression.

As with all things psychological, the relationship between mental state and materialism is complex: Indeed, researchers are still trying to ascertain whether materialism stokes unhappiness, unhappiness fuels materialism, or both. Diener suggests that several factors may help explain the apparent toll of pursuit of wealth. In simple terms, a strong consumerist bent—what William Wordsworth in 1807 called “getting and spending”—can promote unhappiness because it takes time away from the things that can nurture happiness, including relationships with family and friends, research shows.

Advocates of consumerism point to how consumer spending can drive an economy and lead to increased production of goods and services. As a result of higher consumer spending, a rise in GDP can occur. When a greater proportion of citizens buy goods and services in excess of their needs, they consume more, they spend more, and that can create a cycle of demand leading to greater production and to greater employment, which leads to even more consumption.

However, the ill effects on human values and attitudes cannot and shouldn’t be ignored. Researchers developed a model in which endorsement of materialistic values is linked to buying motives focused on identity projection and emotion regulation, which, in turn, are linked to lower well-being and dysfunctional consumer behaviour.

Consumerism expresses an attitude in mainly western societies, where the individual displays an unwillingness to engage in the concerns of those who suffer. Francis argues that the culture of comfort makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.

A “consumer” is, hence, defined as someone able to buy goods and services beyond the satisfaction of basic needs. The fact that more people are able to enjoy the benefits of buying goods and services beyond their very basic needs are essentially positive. However, the way the consumer is working is not sustainable. Increasing consumerism tends to shift away from important values such as integrity. Instead, there is a strong focus on materialism and competition. The globalization led consumerism in its nature creates two important issues which could be taken into debate which are; the patterns and effects which exacerbates inequalities and the unsustainable consumption and depletion of the environmental resources. Market-led globalization creates an unequal distribution of wealth through the patterns and effects which are; structural positioning of countries in the global economic system, competition that occurs due to open markets, moving of manufacturing and processing operations to lesser developed countries and income distribution. The connection between environmental degradation and globalization and consumerism could be established taking into consideration the many factors viz; link of globalization and consumerism with the exportation of technologies and activities that can have detrimental effects on the ecosphere, link of globalization and consumerism with the increased levels of commodity exportation, link of globalization and consumerism with encouragement of consumption and creation of artificial and link of globalization and consumerism with the overuse of global resources disregarding natural cycles, disregarding traditional practices over more sophisticated markets, deforestation leading to habitat denial and extinction of species and genetic engineering.

Evidently, Consumerism has a good and bad side. Although consumerism drives economic growth and boosts innovation, it comes with a fair share of problems ranging from environmental and moral degradation to higher debt levels, mental health problems and degradation of human values. Since we are already in a consumerist society, it is advisable to strike a healthy balance. A person’s love for the finer things in life should not come at the expense of his/her mental health and financial stability.





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