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America's Consumer Binge
“The question is not shall I be a person of faith, but rather, which faith should BE mine? For whether a person craves prestige, wealth, security, or amusement; whether the person lives for God, country, science, or plunder, that person is demonstrating a faith, showing confidence in something. Find out what he gives his deepest loyalty to and you've found his religion." James Luther Adams
Consumerism has become the driving force of American culture. We spend a vast amount of time, resources and money on the acquisition of stuff. Stuff to make our teeth whiter, our hair softer, and our laundry cleaner. Advertisers suggest subtly that if we participate in this orgy of mass consumption we‘ll feel better, look better, and be more popular. Success is measured in dollars. In this model, if you don’t own or buy a lot of stuff you don’t matter as much. Most of our stuff has an expiration date. It’s called planned obsolescence. Go ahead and buy a new laptop, but chances are you’ll find a better, faster one on the shelf in six months, and we all want better and faster. We’re no longer citizens. We are consumers.
Americans use 2 million plastic beverage bottles every 5 minutes. We replace 426,000 cell phones every day. We use 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags every hour1. Americans comprise only five percent of the world population yet we consume 30% of the worlds natural resources. We pillage the environment to create products that are worn our or used up in six months, and then we send them to the landfill. We call this success.
It’s true that the economic downturn has slowed our consumption binge to some degree, but is this indicative of a fundamental change in spending philosophy or are we just buying less because we can’t afford more? What is recession? Recession is lack of growth. So how do we stimulate growth? We use more natural resources to produce more disposable goods and we sit back and wait for people to buy more stuff. There’s some talk of economic recovery, but within this economic model the only way to end recession is to encourage further unrestrained spending habits.
Some Americans have seen the light. They are paying down debt, reducing their consumption and refusing to live beyond their means. Some are learning to live with less and in the process they’re finding a new freedom. Debt ties you down. You may own the biggest house on the block, but if you’re in dept up to your eyeballs you’re probably spending too much time at work to enjoy it.
Think for a minute about how much your life revolves around getting and keeping stuff. What would you do if you didn’t have any debt? You could spend more time with your family. You could help your kids with their homework or donate some time to charity. You could plant a garden in the back yard and make home cooked meals every night. Material gain is not the only measure of success. We can succeed only when we become a nation that values thrift, tradition and a more sustainable economy.
1. Running The Numbers: An American Self Portrait by Chris Jordan