Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Defense of Consumerism

Can we PLEASE stop whining about the "consumer economy?" I, for one, am okay with the consumer economy because the alternative is either a welfare state in which a large percentage of the population is supported while they do nothing useful, or one in which everyone works in necessities and infrastructure, mainly standing around doing nothing.

One of the hallmarks of a modern society is that if you add up all the people that you need for necessities (food, clothing, housing, that sort of thing), and infrastructure (roads, law enforcement, power, basic communications, et cetera), you get a number smaller than the total number of people in the workforce. If we all only purchased those items that we really needed - becoming a nation of ascetics, as it were, what would everyone else do for a living? Subsistence farming? And are you really sure that if everyone lived like you, that your job would survive?

I don't get up and go to work every morning because I'm enamored of consumer society. If I don't work, I don't have a way of making money to buy food, clothing, shelter and transportation, and I don't have the skills or the resources to supply all of these things myself without help from anyone else. And I likely don't have the skills to be able to trade with people who are good at it, as I'll be out-competed by people who are better farmers, tailors or carpenters than I. My skills lie in other areas. Areas that, frankly, don't directly keep anybody alive or our society viable. If everyone decides to avoid those things, I lose the opportunity to work. And with that, I lose the ability to pay for the things that keep me alive and our society viable. And so I become a either freeloader or a semi-skilled, make-work charity case - neither of which is good for the culture as a whole.

The whole point behind non-essential specialists in a society is that they support themselves doing things that don't need doing. And in doing so, they invent and improve and innovate. There's a reason why technology advances faster now that it did 2000 or even 200 years ago. I don't know that it's worth giving up, in the name of an ascetic's virtue.

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