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Consumerism - Its History and Types

Updated on September 28, 2010

Definition of Consumerism

The movement seeking to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging and advertising, product guarantees, and improved safety standards


Pre-World War I period

Between 1890 and 1930, America was transformed, at lightning speed, by a corporate invasion of everyday life. Giant companies like DuPont, US Steel and Standard Oil grew to dominate commerce. Factories, hotels, department stores and amusement parks began to dot the landscape. Streetlights, electric signs, the telegraph, mail-order catalogs, fashion shows -- all celebrated the new industrial message.

By the 1930s, corporations employed more than 80 percent of the people and produced most of America's wealth. The large corporations were now too big and powerful to challenge in the courts. During this period, many of the original ideals of the American Revolution were forgotten or watered down, and America was increasingly a corporate state, governed by a coalition of government and business interests.

Post-World War II decades

In the post World War II years, corporations merged, consolidated, restructured and metamorphosed into ever larger and more complex units of resource extraction, production, distribution and marketing. In the 1990s, corporations put aside their traditional competitive feelings toward each other and forged tens of thousands of co-branding deals, marketing alliances, co-manufacturing projects and R&D agreements, and created a global network of common interests.

Latest history

By 1997, 51 of the world's largest economies were not countries but corporations. Today, the top 100 companies control 33 percent of the world's assets, but employ only one percent of the world's workforce. General Motors is larger than Denmark; Wal-Mart bigger than South Africa. The mega-corporations roam freely around the globe, lobbying legislators, bankrolling elections and playing governments off against each other to get the best deals. Their private hands control the bulk of the world's news and information flows.

Types and Branches

Green Consumerism

This is where people purchase or participate in goods or services which attempt to replace existing ones with something designed to be 'friendlier' and less damaging to ecosystems and natural planetary defences.

Ethical Consumerism

This is a development of green consumerism which considers a variety of wider issues than just a product's green credentials, such as whether or not the manufacturer invests in the arms trade or has supported oppressive regimes. Through a comprehensive monitoring of the behaviour of modern business, ethical consumerism aims to encourage trade to be as responsible as is possible within the current economic system.




A lot of money made, and lot of power gathered


Products are made pshycologically obsolete long before they actually wear out, lot of money is required for the R&D of new products.



At first a growing number of pleasant conveniences for housewives in the 1950s, then a car for everyone with the gradual erosion of transit, then the ubiquitousness of things and chemical products technologically unimaginable a few decades earlier, then growing availability of consumer credit and debt.

ii. Cons

Consumerism is economically manifested in the chronic purchasing of new goods and services, with little attention to their true need, durability, product origin or the environmental consequences of manufacture and disposal. Consumerism is driven by huge sums spent on advertising designed to create both a desire to follow trends, and the resultant personal self-reward system based on acquisition. Materialism is one of the end results of consumerism.

Consumerism interferes with the workings of society by replacing the normal common sense desire for an adequate supply of life's necessities, community life, a stable family and healthy relationships with an artificial ongoing and insatiable quest for things and the money to buy them with little regard for the true utility of what is bought.


Everything becomes mediated through the spending of money on goods and services.


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