Ben Nicholas rightly stated, “The corruption of the American soul is consumerism.” Consumerism in the United States has been a strong driving force for so long. The simplest definition of the word – consumerism that I could understand easily is – the consumption of goods at a higher rate. The level of consumption in the nation is increasing day-by-day. Today’s growing society can be traced as that of abundance, and not that of scarcity. Today, each and every product is available in profusion to the people and people are still always unhappy and have unsatisfiable demands which are the major cause of the increasing consumerism, not only in the United States but also throughout the world. Every year Americans may be spending billions or trillions of dollars on clothing, electronics, homes, household items, cars and other products, which in turn is a personal loss as it causes the shortage of capital at other intense time of need. A trend can be defined as an increase of something in a particular direction – positive or negative. More precisely it can also be said as people’s rise in interest in a particular direction. The word ‘trend’ is used more often for ‘fashion’ but it can be applied to increase in anything on a larger scale. Thus, the consumerism is increasing at a tremendous rate in one form or another, therefore can be accessed as a trend and can be regarded as the major cause of problems such as economic instability in the United States and throughout the world, putting many lives at risk. Regulation can only be possible if people control the over-consumption themselves in the social, political and economic aspects of life. Thus, this paper will explore the various areas of increasing consumerism in the United States and will also provide with some statistical analysis and reasons for the existing trend and determine the actuality of its existence.
AREAS OF INCREASING CONSUMERISM
Insurance was one of the major areas where the Americans use to spend a lot. During early years, many people in the United States were underinsured (less solace with the insurance) and approximately 50 million people living in the United States were uninsured. A wide range of them include the low-income people. Whites were at a higher risk of underinsurance and among the other races; Blacks and the Hispanics seemed to be affected more by uninsurance (Woolhandler et. al. 1122). The major area of concern was the uninsured people. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, in their study stated, “A series of surveys of non-elderly adults by the Commonwealth Fund estimated underinsurance at 9% in 2003, increasing to 16% in 2010, the proportion spending >10% of income on out-of-pocket costs and premiums rose from 21% in 2001 to 32% in 2010” (1122). Thus, these statistics show us that people used to spend so much of their earnings on the insurance which would not benefit them as much as the required in return. Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the one that came in at that time and people believed that it would fix both issues at hand: uninsurance and the underinsurance. Thus, it actually lowered the out-of-pocket costs and the premiums drastically which in turn brought relief to the people. Therefore, insurance was a major issue during the early 21st century in the United States and a major reason for lavish spending, which led consumerism increase and grow tremendously in the country.
“The nation’s masses craved only those products and lifestyles projected onto movie screens, pictured in magazines, or described on the radio, things that only the excesses capitalism could provide” (Restad 773). This is/was the general notion not only in the United States but also throughout the world because social interaction and social media play a huge role in the human life. The need of the consumers often seems to mix with the desires. As a result, important provisions such as schools, colleges etc. become less prioritized. Food and drinks are the major aspects where the major part of the income of the people of the United States are spent on. Annie Leonard claims:
People of the U.S buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week. That’s enough to circle the globe more than 5 times… A quick calculation comparing the average cost of one gallon of tap water . . . to one gallon of commercially bottled water comes out to Tap water: $0.002 per gallon; bottled water: ranges from $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon.” Here’s how they break this out: “Pepsi’s Aquafina brand, which is nothing more than tap water further purified, registered $425.7 million in sales in 2005, followed by Coca-Cola’s Dasani bottled tap water with a sales tally of $346.1 million. Meanwhile, Nestlé’s Poland Spring brand, which does come from spring sources, rang up sales of $199.7 million (201-204).
People spend a lot of filtered water bottles each and every day. The above statistics show the approximate amount of profit, the water bottle companies earn per annum is unbelievable. Although it doesn’t guarantee the quality, the people with the fear of drinking unfiltered water make them believe the manufacturers and purchase them. Thus, this type of consumerism trend is increasing day-by-day and it is a sad truth and it’s insane that people spend such a lot of money on the so-called processed water and feel threatened by the natural tap water – even though it is declared certifiably drinkable by the government nowadays and a regular check report is available to all.
We always seem to understand the depth of the matter only and only if we are provided with some statistics that prove it. So some smart people thought that they will have to come up with some statistics that show the amount of consumerism in the country and study them to prove its credibility. Consumer Reports National Research Center took a survey of people across the United States about their buying habits. They were asked about what would be the top 5 prioritized things that they would buy if they were to spend a $100K lottery ticket and what would be the most common things that they would spend on in that year. They came with some really interesting statistics and came up with the three most prioritized and common buys. These statistics are a healthy proof of blind consumerism in the United States as well and is similar almost throughout the world where nowadays people’s most common thought process is to earn and live it today and never worry about tomorrow, which is a life threat. The below chart says it all.
(Information from Consumer Reports 2014.)
THEN VS NOW
Consumer spending is a trend which grows intentionally or unintentionally each year. A research shows that with every passing year, the consumer spending is increasing, which is leading to economic instability in the United States. Kimberly Amadeo, in her article “Consumer Spending Up 3.3 Percent” claims:
Consumer spending contributes 69.1 percent of the U.S. economy. Before the recession, it added 70 percent. Soft consumer spending is the main reason the GDP growth rate has been on the low side of the 2-3 percent healthy range since the Great Recession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, in 2016, the average American spent $57,311.
Thus, the above data shows the contribution of consumer spending (i.e. 69.1%) which is huge, which in a way, from government’s point of view is very happening but not as good from the buyer’s point of view. The chart below explains the consumer spending in detail.
(Information from “2016 Consumer Expenditures,?” Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 29, 2017.)
The chart shows that in 2013, the consumer spending in the united states was $51,100 which increased to $53,495 in 2014, heading up to $55,978 in 2015 and finally $57,311 in 2016. Then after some calculations, I figured out (Information from “2016 Consumer Expenditures,?” Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 29, 2017.) that in a four year period, from 2013 to 2016, in 2016, the consumer spending increased by approximately 12% as compared to 2013. Thus, the above statistics show that consumer spending trend is increasing day-by-day.
REASONS FOR THE INCREASE
The biggest reason for the growing consumerism in the United States and also throughout the world is the introduction of the credit into the system. Like everything else, credit also has its own positive and negative consequences. Its positive impacts include it making the buying process lot easy and less stressful whereas its negative impacts are probably its aftermaths (debt). Credit cards have changed the whole dilemma across the globe. Nowadays, people are less worried and sub-conscious when they go out for shopping as they don’t realize sometimes about a false buy as they don’t have to pay upfront from their pocket and realize it later when it’s too late to regret. Anna Quindlen describes:
A critical difference between then and now is credit. The orange had to be paid for…. Every once in a while, like magic, a bit of extra money would appear. Interest. Yippee. The passbook was replaced by plastic, so that today Americans are overwhelmed by debt and the national savings rate is calculated, like an algebra equation, in negatives. By 2010 Americans will be a trillion dollars in the hole on the credit-card debt alone (378).
Here, the author describes the difference he himself observed before and after the credit came into action. The most amazingly awful impact is that debt. A trillion dollar debt in 2010 is a lot more, which by now might have increased at least by 10 times. The prosperity of a nation is judged by the per capita income of individuals residing in it. The economy is considered to be” doing well” if the purchasing power of the people is high. Thus, this is the biggest cause of consumerism which drifts the whole country and the world on the back foot because it is very harmful from the economical point of view for any country in the world. This can only be outplayed if and only if the people make a collective effort by not depending on the credit more and if required, spend only what they can afford at that point in time. This would restrict the flow of consumerism on a large level.
The biggest question that comes up when we hear the word “consumerism” is, what are the choices, and what should be bought and what not? There can never be a definite answer to such questions. It depends on various factors such as personal choice, its market price, purchasing power and its need. In a consumer society, people replace their goods with newer ones. They purchase goods, use them and throw them away. New goods when they become old are replaced by newer ones. The question of repair does not arise. People have money to purchase goods in plenty. A critical or an ethical consumer is a person who spends efficiently – less for more, and simply not what they are attracted/persuaded towards. Mickey Gjerris, in his work “What to Buy? On the Complexity of Being a Critical Consumer” states:
All that is needed to create ‘a better world’ is for consumers to demand the right products. However, so-called ethically minded consumers rarely purchase ethically, partly because: the process of embedding ethical issues into daily life is gradual and difficult… Moreover, it also often requires giving up purchasing power (e.g. when food is at higher costs), choosing something of a perceived lesser quality, buying food in more inconvenient ways—or simply experience that the desired products are unavailable (82).
People generally don’t care about the costs of the product that they are attracted towards or the foreign-born goods. They tend to attract towards them more often than not. Just because a product is a foreign produce doesn’t bring variety to the table, but it just brings more and more profit to the producers and the sellers. These preferences lead to more spending. An alternative to this is always available but people tend to ignore it for the original. I can relate my personal experience to this. A few days ago, I went to the supermarket store to buy some common cough, cold and flu medicines for my grandmother. The store had many different brands of similar contented medicines. My goal as a consumer has always been to buy more for less. So I kept looking for substitutes to the name-brand medicines with the same contents in them. It took some efforts but I really found out for all of the medicines that I had to purchase. Later I did a study and found out that I had saved almost 50% on the medicines I bought compared to the name brand ones, and at the end, its result was the same. So the effort was a success. Thus, the author tries to explain something similar, that consumers should think ethically when it comes to purchasing products which in turn will be beneficial for them as they will save plenty by thinking before buying.
My mother always tells me that excessive of something is always harmful. She always alerts me to the fact, when I am behind something more and more. Slowly and slowly, I realized it’s worth. Thus, these factors and statistics show that people, themselves are digging a trench, knowingly or unknowingly for themselves as well as others around them. This trend will always keep increasing each year intentionally or unintentionally until we put breaks to our demands. This can only be controlled if the people themselves decide to do it, if not for others, but at least for themselves. But for that, they need to be made fully aware about the consequences of excessive consumerism by the statistics, data and its aftermaths, which will eventually, slowly and steadily lead to its decrease and bring it back to normal.
Thus, let us start from today by saying NO to more than needed and take our country and the world back to the conventional ways in the social, political and economic aspects of life and therefore create a better place to live in for everyone by decreasing over-consumption and consuming ethically by repelling from eye-pleasing, status-pleasing, ego-pleasing luxuries.
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