Conscious Consumerism

Squeaking this one in under the wire today.  It was one of those Mondays and as such this is going to be short and, in my opinion, decidedly not sweet.  Here goes . . .

I was unfortunately not surprised to learn that each American who celebrates Valentine’s Day spends an average of $120 on gifts.  After all, in America nothing says love like money spent.  PolicyMic has a great article that details our collective $13 billion dollar consumption spasm (1).  Suffice it to say that even Fido feels the love on Valentine’s Day to the whopping sum of $367 million.

I am not here today to be a killjoy or to advocate for an ascetic lifestyle.  I’m a huge fan of love and I do believe massive amounts of chocolate can make a relationship stronger.  And yes, my kids celebrate Valentine’s Day: we have an annual chocolate hunt and chocolate cake for dessert.  My oldest son will be taking lollipops to his 2nd grade classmates too.  So when I preach here, it’s definitely to the choir and me in it, but I can’t resist pointing out that tomorrow Americans will open their pockets to that $13 billion dollar tune for a manufactured want.

I recently read Alan Brennert’s novel Honolulu (2), set in part on a sugar cane plantation.  The story details the experience of the main character at the plantation store, where she quickly realizes the cost of necessities will require more than her family earns, effectively keeping them forever in servitude to the plantation.  It’s a set-up as old as time.  Still goes on today in exactly that same way.  But it’s happening in America at a more subtle level too.

Once the American household attained such prosperity that there was lots of discretionary income available, it was no longer sufficient for the plantation store to sell only necessities.  After all, what would they do if their workers made enough to up and leave?  And so began the manufacturing of demand: the process of creating goods, then getting us to believe we need them, or at least that we want them.

Remember those statistics about consumer spending over the past century?  I’m thinking about the one that says in 2003 Americans only had to allocate 50.1% of their household income for necessities like food, water, shelter and clothing.  And I’m thinking about the follow up to that statistic, the part where the authors go on to say that one of the most striking features in consumer spending over the past century “is the wide variety of consumer items that had not been invented during the early decades of the 20th century but are commonplace today” (3).  Sure, some of that vast inventory was created because of natural demand.  But much of it was as manipulated into our lives and dreams as those little candy hearts we now find ourselves buying every February 14th.

In America in 2012, it can sometimes be difficult to identify the opponents of liberty.  After all, I’m not writing from a prison cell.  We ended our ties to the monarchy many moons ago.  But sometimes the chains that bind us need not be the heavy metal variety that clank.  Sometimes liberty’s adversaries peddle cheap crap and call it love.

Take a look at what you purchased last week.  How many of those purchases originated from necessity?

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


(1) via Valentine’s Day Spending: Average of $120 per Person @PolicyMic | Chris Miles.


(3) via 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending: Data for the Nation, New York City, and Boston.


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